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Hudson River Almanac June 29 - July 5, 2012

OVERVIEW

A summer heat wave, with daily air temperatures in the 90s, found its way into many entries this week. Lightning bugs or fireflies (winged beetles) and the trill of cicadas became a backdrop for the week. A black skimmer (a coastal shorebird) made a rare appearance in the lower estuary and peregrine falcons in the Shawangunks managed to surprise an expert on their behavior.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Our first common loon chick of the season was seen on Arbutus Lake today, hatched this weekend from one of two eggs that were laid in early June. We are waiting to see if the other egg hatches but we suspect that it was not viable. There are three other lakes that we survey for loons that have active nests, each with two eggs. We are hopeful that the lack of rain and resulting lower lake level doesn't cause the adults to abandon their nests. Monarch butterflies are also starting to arrive and lay eggs on the very fragrant flowering milkweed plants.

- Charlotte Demers

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/29 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The heat was building on a day when the air temperature would reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The cicadas had begun their summer trill and the near shore shallows were a cool relief even at 75 degrees F. We hauled our seine expecting young-of-the-year [YOY] river herring, but found none. They have had either moved on or the next pulse of fish had not yet arrived from upriver. In their place we caught a like number (scores, if not hundreds) of YOY spottail shiners 23-30 millimeters [mm] long. At this size they are nearly indistinguishable from many other Hudson River minnows except for the black spot at the base of their tail (caudal fin).

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The spottail shiner (Notropis hudsonius) is a native species and is found from the Canadian Maritimes westward to the Northwest Territories of Canada, south through the Midwest and Great Lakes, and along the Atlantic slope south through the Carolinas. Yet, across that broad expanse of North America, they were first described, in scientific terms, in New York State, specifically the Hudson River (its type site) by DeWitt Clinton in 1824. In addition to being a three-time mayor of New York City and the sixth governor of New York State (1817-1822), Clinton was also a naturalist. Tom Lake.]

6/29 - Putnam Valley, HRM 54: I saw my very first bald eagle in the wild this morning. Driving south on the Taconic State Parkway I glanced up to see a very large bird flying overhead. There was no mistaking the white head on this majestic bird! It gave me a chill and made my day.

- Kathy Kraft

6/30 - Dutchess County, HRM 96.5: As reported in the Red Hook Journal of June 14, 1912, "Arthur Manning of Oakes had captured a four hundred pound sturgeon [there is little doubt that it was an Atlantic sturgeon] Tuesday morning off the Cornell University boat house on the west side of the river. Sturgeon have been very scarce in the river in recent years."

- Maynard Ham

6/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: On another warm day (air temperature 93 degrees F), the two fledgling eagles from NY62 were perched close to each other on a horizontal limb of an oak tree, posturing like cormorants. With their wings outstretched, they allowed some of their body heat to escape. Cormorants generally assume the "Dracula" pose in order to dry out their feathers after spending time in the water (their wings lack the buoyant oils of waterfowl). When eagles overheat, they exercise the option of going to the river and standing "knee deep" in the water to cool off.

- Tom Lake

7/1 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A summer haze hung over Cornwall Bay. The river was a tepid 75 degrees F (the day would reach 93 degrees) and the early morning ebb tide had allowed suspended particles to settle from the water column. The underwater visibility was six feet, not bad by estuary standards. The advantage of shallow water snorkeling comes from seeing fish, sometime schools of many, in their natural setting, not crowded and crushed in the bag of a seine. Careful watching revealed tessellated darters set up on their pelvic fins, perfectly camouflaged on the sandy bottom. Small schools of spottail shiners and killifish flew into my mask before angling off. The highlight was a ten-inch-long smallmouth bass hanging out in the newly sprouted pondweed (Potamogeton sp.). It was the top-of-the-pyramid predator on the flats that day.

- Tom Lake

7/1 - Montrose, HRM 40.5: I don't know if it's just me, but I cannot recall ever seeing as many fireflies as I have over the past few days, and I spent many nights as a child catching them. Watching with my daughter and niece tonight, I would conservatively put the number of "lightning bugs" in the yard in the many hundreds.

- Ed McKay

7/2 - East Kingston, HRM 95: Tom Cole gave me two jellyfish that his grandson had scooped up from a small pond next to Charles Ryder Park, just south of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. The freshwater jellyfish (Craspedacusta sowerbyi) were only 1.5 and 2.0 centimeter [cm] across.

- Chris Bowser

[This jellyfish is not common but pops up irregularly every summer in ponds and small lakes. It is a lovely, delicate little creature and has been introduced widely around the world. There are somewhere between 5-15 species of freshwater jelly fish, other than Craspedacusta, but only Craspedacusta is known from North America. Dave Strayer, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.]

7/3 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The full moon low tide (spring tide) had left an unusually wide swath of sandy beach. As the first glow of daylight brightened the sky over Dutchess County, we hauled our seine through the shallower-than-usual shallows. The water was a cool 74 degrees F (the day would reach 90). The YOY river herring and spottail shiners that filled our net in recent days were not there. In their place were several small schools of YOY striped bass (49-50 mm), as well as tessellated darters, white perch, American eels, and redbreast sunfish. We also caught several male banded killifish, still in their breeding colors - their lavender bands luminous in the dawn light. Conspicuous by their absence were blue crabs of any size.

- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Artists, photographers, and poets have long revered sunsets in their work; but for me, I'll take sunrise on a beach at dawn. The growing glow from first light to sunrise, the warm colors of the spectrum painting the sky, is a study in anticipation - rebirth, renewal, dawn of a new day. Tom Lake.]

7/3 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 13: My neighbor has lived in Riverdale, not far from the river, for more than sixty years. He tells me that he has never seen a wild turkey in Riverdale. Yet, yesterday on Sigma Place, in all its glory, was a wonderful specimen that has since visited on several occasions. We have no idea where the turkey lives; it struts off, flies a bit, and then disappears in the dense brush up Sigma Place. I write to inquire whether there is something wise to do to protect or encourage the bird.

- B. Volpe

[Once we recognize the "wild" aspect of wildlife, the answers appear. Wild turkeys are native residents and were here before we arrived. They lived in a community that included the gray wolf and other high-end predators and, as a result, wild turkeys are clever and wary survivors. With the extirpation of the wolf, we have become the high-end predator; the first thing we can do is to drive more carefully; road-killed turkeys are not uncommon. We can also limit how much "kindness" we give them (i.e., handouts of cracked corn and other natural foods), or we may dull their wariness thus making them vulnerable to other predators such as coyotes. And, as with all forms of wildlife, do not try to approach them in hope of establishing a "friendship," or getting a perfect photo. That is the role of strong optics of zoom lenses and binoculars. These steps will not so much encourage them, as they will enable turkeys to retain their wildness. Tom Lake.]

7/4- Town of Poughkeepsie: The pair of eagle fledglings from NY62 has demonstrated much fidelity to the area around their nest tree, far more than any of the mated pair's offspring have ever shown over the last twelve years. They soared near each other, high over the forest in the face of some cooling westerlies (the air temperature at the ground reached 92 degrees F).

- Tom Lake

7/4 - Piermont, HRM 28: A black skimmer took a pass at Piermont Pier this morning at 7:45. They are rare here.

- Evan Mark

[Black skimmers, a relative of gulls and terns, are rather common in coastal areas but a very rare shorebird in the estuary. Greenbrook Sanctuary (HRM 18) lists them as "very rare" and only in autumn migration. The Almanac has only two records from the estuary: August 14, 1996, Julia Reich spotted one from the Beczak Center in Yonkers (HRM 18), and May 19, 2000, Nancy Zoebelein reported that a black skimmer had been on Piermont Pier for several days. Tom Lake.]

7/4 - Clermont, HRM 105: As we read Greg Esch's Almanac entry (see 6/21) it confirmed our belief that we had seen a bobcat several times as well, crossing Woods Road. There are many wild turkeys in the area to snack on.

- Rob Rondon, Jude Holdsworth

7/4 - Verbank, HRM 77: I had a white-tailed deer doe with triplets in my yard, today, but a wild turkey that had only one poult.

- Audrey Walker

[If I had to hazard a guess as to this disparity, I would say that you may have coyotes in Verbank that appreciate tender wild turkey, and that you and your neighbors drive at a reasonable rate of speed. Tom Lake.]

7/4 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: Flocks of starlings were around over the last few days, many of which seemed to be immatures. A few monarch butterflies have been drifting past, attracted to purple cone flower and butterflyweed. They seem fast-flitting and lively compared to the fatigue they tend to show in fall migration. Their presence here coincides with local start of common milkweed blossoming. There is a super abundance of fireflies this summer; all seem to be "single-flashers."

- Nancy P Durr

7/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The NY62 eagle fledglings have been doing a lot of "whining" as the adults were making less frequent stops with food.

- Bill Steele

[Even though fledgling eagles are fully capable of leaving the nest and venturing out on their own, they will still look to the adults to provide food. The job of weaning them off "handouts" and teaching them to forage for themselves is the role of the adults (primarily the female) over the next few months. By late fall, they will have learned to be eagles, partly through instinct and partly through mentoring. Tom Lake.]

7/5 - Ulster County, HRM 78: This is a summary of our spring peregrine falcon observations, conducted by the Mohonk Preserve, at three locations along the Shawangunk Ridge. There was a point in this breeding season when we were convinced that the three eyries we were observing had failed.

BONTICOU: Early in the season we were seeing a pair of falcons in the vicinity but there was already a pair of ravens nesting in the area that we felt provided the best location for an eyrie. For the most part, these peregrines remained in the area, not showing much interest in breeding. We then saw a falcon using a flat, exposed grassy area that provided neither protection from predators or the elements; however the type of behavior exhibited by the female indicated she was on eggs. After several weeks of falcon inactivity at this location, Joe Bridges climbed to it and found egg shell fragments in and near a very exposed scrape. This eyrie was declared a failure.

TRAPPS: Early in the season we were confident that a pair of falcons had successfully set up an eyrie in the same location as they did in 2010. Things seemed to be going along as planned until one day we watched a gray squirrel running across the ledge. It may have been a coincidence, but after that the adult falcons seemed to be out and about although not seen that often, let alone at the eyrie. Joe Bridges, along with a ranger from the Mohonk Preserve, climbed down to the eyrie only to find egg shell fragments and prey remains. This eyrie was also declared a failure and we decided to concentrate our efforts on Millbrook where a successful breeding seemed more likely.

It was not until the end of June that we received a report of two people who, while climbing not far from the original Trapps eyrie, were dive-bombed by a pair of falcons. At this point we decided to go over to take another look. On June 28 we spotted a falcon land on a ledge, north of the original eyrie, and remain for more than thirty minutes. On July 2, two chicks were seen; however, by July 4 and 5 only one remained. To the best of our knowledge this is the first time we have had a second clutch of eggs laid after a failure. I say to the best of our knowledge because in the past what we deemed as a failed attempt may have been followed by a successful one but we were not observing to see it. A lesson to be learned, indeed! We believe this chick to be 20-23 days old based upon photographs of chicks of known ages. We will continue to follow the development of this chick and hopefully be reporting on its development through fledging.

MILLBROOK: Anticipation of successful breeding continued until June 24 when we saw turkey vultures perched in the vicinity of the eyrie as well as at other perch sites typically used by the falcons. Similar observations were made on June 28, at which time the eyrie was considered to have failed. A climb to inspect the eyrie is planned for the near future and I will report on it once it is completed.

- Thomas J. Sarro, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh


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