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Hudson River Almanac July 6 - July 12, 2012

OVERVIEW

There is speculation that scarcity of submerged aquatic vegetation (primarily wild celery) in the estuary this summer may be the result of last summer's tropical storms Irene and Lee. In an ongoing story, a stretch of 90+ degree days may have contributed to kills of Atlantic menhaden in the lower estuary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/12 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The Beczak Center educators at the Kathryn W. Davis River Walk caught a fish in their seine that we had not seen before. From the attached photos, can you tell us what it is?

- Susan Hereth

[The fish was a spot (Leiostomus xanthurus), a palm-sized, saltwater species of the drum family. They get their name from a conspicuous black spot just behind their gill opening and above their pectoral fin. While spot are found occasionally in summer in the lower estuary, they are more common farther down the coast from New Jersey to Maryland. They are colloquially called "Lafayettes," a name passed down in river lore since 1824 when a visit of the Revolutionary War general Lafayette to Manhattan coincided with a great presence of these fish in the lower river. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/6 - Selkirk, HRM 135: In two hours early this morning, I saw baby bunnies in the back yard, a fawn crossing the street, a baby gray squirrel running up a tree, and a mother raccoon herding her four babies across the road. This was definitely a morning for babies.

- Roberta S. Jeracka

7/6 - Kerhonkson, Ulster County, HRM 77: Early in the morning, as I watered my friend's garden, I noticed a miniscule caterpillar on a very small clump of 15-inch-high dill. With a second look I was amazed to find 16 more. This brings back to me the time when a dear friend told me that she was killing the annoying parsley worm (that also eats dill and Queen Anne's lace). I explained to her that she was killing the larva of the black swallowtail butterfly! She never killed one again.

I think it is a very good caterpillar year. For the second time in thirty years I began raising monarch butterfly caterpillars before May 20. My beautiful black swallowtail larvae are as attractive as those of the monarch. I've decided the caterpillar is my totem animal. That may have been obvious to many who know me but with the gift of this season, I can ignore it no longer.

- Betty Boomer

7/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I had the pleasure of watching the two fledglings from eagle nest NY62 fly together for twenty minutes, including some frolicking while in flight - they each did a barrel roll. They are flying much higher and flew out of my sight several times. When they came back they began talon grabbing in flight over the fields. You can sense that the adults want them to expand their boundaries as they bring food only sparingly.

- Terry Hardy

[Immature eagles, even those only three weeks out of the nest, will begin playing games such talon-grabbing that provide good exercise and social interaction. In the winter months, we frequently see immatures playing "tag" on the river ice: One bird will carry a stick, a rock, or a fish in its talons and others will pursue until it is dropped, whereupon another bird will pick it up and the game continues. Tom Lake.]

7/6 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67: While leaving a farm market and heading south, something "winged" caught my eye. I looked up and watched a large red-tailed hawk swoop down and take a squirrel. They tumbled head over talon twice down the slope of an embankment and finally came to a stop. The squirrel fought but the hawk was not losing its meal. The hawk protected its catch, with an eye on me to make sure I was not a threat. I watched for a few more minutes and left with the hawk picking fur.

- Zshawn Sullivan

7/7 - Cheviot, HRM 106: A majestic group of five great blue herons flew slowly past in a loose formation, wings seeming almost to touch. They circled just above the big tree at the end of the jetty and came back to land in its upper branches. Three were definitely immatures; the other two were obscured by foliage. We see many great blues but this was the first time seeing a tight flying group like this. My thought was that this was a family of adults and fledglings.

- Jude Holdsworth

7/7 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: A juvenile red-shouldered hawk perched on the roof of a house across the street, "kayaking" all morning. It didn't take much imagination to translate its call to its parents: "How about some breakfast!"

- David Lund

7/7 - Norrie Point HRM 85: Thirteen of us hauled our seine through the weedy shallows at a very low tide at the Environmental Education Center. Our modest catch consisted of a white sucker, three pumpkinseed sunfish, six banded killifish, nine spottail shiners, and at least 25 tessellated darters.

- Jim Herrington

7/7 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We stood and listened to the "chortling" of the eagle fledglings as they perched in the nest tree (NY62). In the twelve years we have watched this pair and their offspring, these have been by far the most attached-to-the-nest fledglings that we have ever seen. In most years, they have left in a few days and the nest remained empty for the next seven months. But these two have the "run of the house." Just as the adults had to limit food delivery in order to get them to fledge, they will probably have to find a way to entice them away from the dinner table that has become the nest tree.

- Tom Lake. T.R. Jackson

7/8 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Several of us have noticed an almost complete lack of wild celery (Vallisneria americana) in the river this year in areas where it has typically been known to thrive.

- Patrick Landewe

7/8 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: We went seining this morning during low tide at the Mid-Hudson Children's Museum. Among our catch was a three-inch-long, juvenile Atlantic needlefish, very uncommon here. We also caught white perch, young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, spottail shiner, and a tiny hogchoker. The river is great to share with families!

- Lisa DiMarzo

7/8 - Cortlandt Manor, HRM 38.5: I sat on the deck this evening watching at least six bats flitting around. I was getting glimpses of five or six at a time overhead, a fun aerial show that I have not seen for at least three years.

- Peter C. Schechter

7/9 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I saw what I thought was a huge cormorant in the big tree out on the jetty. It turned out to be an immature bald eagle doing the "Dracula" pose. After a while the bird dropped down and stood in the river, and was later joined by another juvenile who also stood in the river. Later I read the Almanac that they were cooling off on a very warm day.

- Jude Holdsworth

7/9 - Cruger Island HRM 98: Beds of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) seem to have diminished this year compared to areas where they had flourished at this time last year. Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve [HRNERR] staff monitor SAV plots south of Cruger Island, and so far have noted no growth of the native wild celery. Other observations document a lack of SAV in known beds near Iona Island (HRM 45), Black Creek/Norrie Point (HRM 85), Esopus Meadows/Dinsmore (HRM 87), the Kingston/Rhinecliff Bridge (HRM 96), and Glasco (HRM 100). The SAV Volunteer Monitoring program, a partnership between HRNERR and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, plans to re-visit points throughout the Hudson River Estuary that were checked last year to try and confirm the presence or absence of SAV. If a loss of SAV is confirmed, causes are uncertain, but may be due to the impact of last fall's tropical storms Irene and Lee.

- Sarah H. Fernald

7/9 - Stone Ridge, Ulster County, HRM 90: Rondout Creek is now host to a pair of bald eagles, an adult and an immature, that have taken up residence above a quiet spot where the creek widens between a farm and a golf course. The creek is slower here; the bend keeps down the wind and leaves the fish easy to spot in the shallows.

- Peter Hales

7/9 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: As I sipped my morning coffee four tufted titmice flew into my Japanese maple tree. One was obviously an adult - the three followers didn't have their complete "tufts" yet. They were all squawking as the adult flew to a spruce tree, then to a silver maple with the fledglings in hot pursuit. It was as if they were playing a game. Three minutes later, a northern flicker came through with two fledglings that did exactly the same thing in exactly the same order. Too cute! Eleven yellow jackets were sitting on the edge of the birdbath getting a cool drink.

- Andra Sramek

7/9 - Fishkill, HRM 61: While standing next to a plastic window box planter set atop a stone wall, we noticed a small dark bee with a leaf cutting as it entered an opening beneath the planter. When I overturned the planter, it was evident that the leaf-cutter bee had developed quite a network of nest cells along the plastic grooves beneath the planter. Normally these bees nest in soft, rotted wood; the nest is built and the young are then tended only by the female bee.

- Ed Spaeth, John Pereira

7/10 - Ulster County, HRM 78: As a follow-up to spring peregrine falcon observations conducted by the Mohonk Preserve at three locations along the Shawangunk Ridge, Bob Elsinger and I, with ground support from Glenn Proudfoot, climbed to the eyrie ledge of the recently failed second breeding attempt of one pair of falcons. The second eyrie was located 300 feet north of this year's first unsuccessful eyrie, on a ledge 170 feet up from the base of the cliff.

A few hours before the climb to the eyrie, Glenn Proudfoot had hiked up the back side of the cliff to investigate the location where, a few days earlier, a turkey vulture had dive-bombed a male peregrine that had set down in a patch of grass near a tall, columnar red cedar. Glenn found no evidence of a peregrine chick or its remains or anything unusual at the location where the male peregrine had been seen, but did notice an odor of decay coming up from below the cedar. A similar odor of decay was also noted at the site on the eyrie ledge where the limited remains (mostly feathers, down and a few small bone fragments) of a peregrine chick were spotted. No adult peregrines were seen or heard during the climb and reconnaissance of the eyrie. Part of a peregrine falcon chick, peregrine egg shell and membrane fragments, and a white wing of a rock dove were collected while climbing to the eyrie.

This has been a frustrating peregrine falcon monitoring season. It started out with optimism and the promise of successful breeding/fledging of falcons at three eyries along the Shawangunk escarpment. It ended with failure of all of them, including our last hope - the Trapps re-nesting pair. It is clear that we need to have a better understanding of predation and ideally a grasp of predation management at the eyries if future peregrine breeding efforts at the Shawangunks are to be successful. We will look into available information about peregrine predation, especially by great horned owl and gray fox.

- Joe Bridges, Tom Sarro

7/10 - Manhattan, HRM 0: During the twelve-minute ride to Governor's Island, our ferry boat was shadowed by common terns and laughing gulls.

- Tom Lake

7/11 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The seemingly endless string of 90-plus Fahrenheit days had warmed the shallows to 81 degrees. Two immature bald eagles were out in Cornwall Bay perched in the forest of deadfalls that were swept out of Moodna Creek by tropical storms Irene and Lee last summer. Given the time of the season, our seine catch was predictable: YOY blueback herring 42-55 millimeters [mm] long, many of which had arrived there after a long swim from the Mohawk River more than 100 miles away. Other YOY fish (a Hudson River specialty) included alewives (62-64 mm) and striped bass (50-51 mm).

- Noel Poindexter, Veronica Schneider, Tom Lake, A. Danforth

7/12 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: As I was walking on Wurtemburg Road in Rhinebeck today, I heard my first summer cicada. It sounded like a solitary cicada.

- Phyllis Marsteller

7/12 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: We electro-shocked Crum Elbow Creek as part of our TogetherGreen collaborative grant for the Hudson River Estuary Program eel project. We made three passes over the same 135-foot stretch of the creek, a bit below the second dam upstream from the estuary. All together we caught two cutlips minnows, 26 adult blacknose dace, three YOY blacknose dace, one tessellated darter, a small neotenic salamander, 10 spiny-cheeked crayfish, and 11 American eels ranging in size from 55-87 mm. When we let them go, that largest eel was a joy to see, slowly undulating through the shallow waters and easy to watch. We also spotted an excited young water snake, with its head up like a submersible cobra.

- Eric Lind, Sarah Mount, Chris Bowser

[The cutlips minnow is a member of the carp and minnow family. Their name describes their lower jaw, which is divided into three lobes. They have been known to use the sharp scalpel-like edge on the middle lobe to core out the eyes of other fish, most notably yellow perch and other minnows. C. Lavett Smith.]

[Neoteny refers to a phenomenon in which salamanders keep some larval features while metamorphosing into sexually mature adults. Steve Stanne.]

7/12 - East Fishkill, HRM 60: In last two days I have seen monarch butterflies flying around my yard. They seemed to be going south, but who can tell with their random flight pattern. They sampled the cosmos flowers in the yard before flying away.

- Sudhir Sharma

7/12 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: My neighbors had their swimming pool filled for the summer and almost immediately a bullfrog took up residence. Every night the croaking and singing begins at dusk and then goes on into the dark.

- Robin Fox

7/12 - Yonkers, HRM 18: In the last two weeks, there have been a lot of fish found dead in the river around the Beczak Center and Kennedy Marina. Some of this same species have been seen swimming on their side at the surface offshore. Attached are pictures of two of the dead fish.

- Todd Patton

[The photos were of Atlantic menhaden, a saltwater species of herring also known as bunker or mossbunker. They travel in large schools in the warm, brackish lower Hudson, where they provide forage for striped bass, bluefish, harriers, osprey, eagles and seals. Fish kills of bunker are pretty much a part of most hot and dry summers in tributaries and bays along the coast. Menhaden are very sensitive to high water temperatures (especially sudden rises, which have occurred recently) and the resulting lowered concentrations of dissolved oxygen. According to the National Weather Service, air temperatures have reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in 10 of the last 13 days. Tom Lake.]

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