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Hudson River Almanac July 13 - July 18, 2012

OVERVIEW

The river simmered this week as day after day of 90+ degree air temperatures had the estuary, in many places, exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. While this is not atypical, the fact that it is occurring this early in the summer is surprising.


HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK


7/17 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I took a dawn walk along the Wappinger Creek and was rewarded with an encounter between a great blue heron and a blue crab. The heron grabbed the crab from the creek but seemed to have a bit of trouble swallowing it. The bird threw the crab on the bank five or six times to subdue it; each time it would pick the crab up and hold it in its bill for a few seconds before throwing it again. As the heron tried to swallow, the crab seemed to get stuck in its mouth and the bird leaned forward as though to "spit" it out. After struggling with it, the great blue finally managed to swallow the crab and I watched as it slowly went down the heron's throat.
- Jamie Collins

A great blue heron struggles to swallow a blue crab A great blue heron successfully swallows a blue crab
(photos by Jamie Collins)

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We were patiently waiting and looking for the two immature eagles from NY62, but neither heard nor saw them. However, in the time we spent watching and listening, we saw about 30 bluebirds flitting along the edges of the forest. We decided it was well worth the time spent.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

7/13 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I watched a couple of goldfinches this morning fluttering around through the flowers, chasing each other. One flew to the shasta daisies, perched on the stem up near the flower head, and the entire stalk slowly dipped to the ground as the bird wobbled to hang on. (This reminded me of that wonderful Robert Frost poem "Birches.") The entire performance was delightful except that the flower remained bent, the stalk broken by the arching.
- Robin Fox

7/14 - Ulster County, HRM 78: I was mountain-biking on Minnewaska Ridge on the Upper Awosting carriage road when I saw a large snake on the road. Unlike the black racers we see all the time, this snake was very thick with what looked like a pinched tail. I got a little closer and saw that it was a timber rattlesnake, my first one. It was about three feet long and moving very slowly across the carriage road. I assume the heat was really slowing the snake down; I gave it all the time it needed to cross the road.
- Scott Craven

7/14 - Brooklyn, New York City: Three brown pelicans were spotted and photographed from Calvert Vaux Park this morning. They were soaring over the shoreline and eventually came down in the middle of Gravesend Bay where they sat for 15 minutes before disappearing. This was a Brooklyn first for me.
- Alex Wilson

[I realize that this is bit of a stretch for the Hudson River watershed, but I just could not resist a brown pelican sighting. We do not get many. Tom Lake.]

7/15 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: Late this afternoon I saw two of our cats sitting on the front walk staring very intently at our roof. I walked outside to see what they were looking at: There were three black vultures walking around on our roof. They wandered around for a bit and then all three hopped up to the top of our chimney and perched there for a while. It appeared that they were a mated pair and their fledgling, as one of the birds was lacking the light tip on its beak and had wisps of light gray down still sticking out from between its wing feathers.
- David Lund

7/15 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Despite the stifling heat, sixteen anglers showed up to participate in our monthly fishing program. The action was slow throughout the three hours, with 28 fish of five species. Elizabeth Athanasiou and Steve Bryun each caught a ten-inch white perch as the highlights. Monarchs, tiger swallowtails, and mourning cloaks danced around us most of the time and an immature bald eagle was perched out on Esopus Island. The river was 81 degrees F.
- Ryan Coulter, Tom Lake

7/15 - Piermont, HRM 25: An American avocet, a wading shorebird normally seen on the coast, and infrequently in our area at that, was spotted on Piermont Pier.
- Evan Mark

7/15 - Upper Bay, New York Harbor: I led an Audubon tour around Governor's Island today. We saw all four common gull species (ring-billed, herring, laughing, black-backed), as well as double-crested cormorants and a few fly-by least sandpipers. The highlight was the thriving breeding colony of common terns on two unused piers on the Buttermilk Channel side of the island. We counted at least 34 chicks on one pier, and 20 on another. The chicks looked to be 2-3 weeks old, with downy bodies but well-grown flight feathers. They were in little clusters of twos and threes, the typical clutch size. The strangest sight was three baby terns sheltering from the sun in an abandoned old phone booth on the pier. The adults were coming and going with small fish in their bills.
- Gabriel Willow

[Common terns have been breeding on Governor's Island for at least three summers. In June 2011, I led some bird walks on Governor's Island as part of a science festival and the terns were there then. I also heard that they were there in 2010 and perhaps earlier. Joe DiCostanzo.]

7/16 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: I heard my first katydids today, at least two weeks early.
- Bill Drakert

7/16 - Millbrook, HRM 82: The morning after the deluge (strong thunderstorms dropped two inches of rain), tiger swallowtails, monarchs, mourning cloaks, and other butterflies were looking to every puddle and pool for a drink.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

7/16 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: While outside in the early twilight just after sundown, I counted 17 barn swallows lined up on the ridge line of the roof and nine more still flying around. Most were immatures. They all tucked into the basement stairwell roost as the fireflies were starting. What was especially nice was that some would fly within ten feet of me and none would make an alarm call. Quite a delight!
- Nancy P Durr

7/17 - Albany, HRM 145: The air temperature reached 99 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

7/17 - Brooklyn, New York City: We launched a small boat just before sunrise near the headwaters of the Gowanus Canal and passed through fuel slicks, possibly from tugs pushing a work barge or sandhogs building the new flushing tunnel for the canal, and entered into Gowanus Bay. We came upon ten-foot circles of water in which the bay churned with fish, probably menhaden being pursued by a predator. As the sun rose, a black-crowned night heron fled its perch from a pier adjacent to the Amerada Hess fuel terminal. This is the same pier where a juvenile minke whale attempted to beach itself in 2007. Common terns darted about amidst a crowded field of orange-necked barn swallows.
- Robert Sullivan

7/17 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 97 degrees F today, just one degree off the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

7/18 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: We electro-shocked a 125-foot-long stretch at the mouth of the Fall Kill below the first falls. Three passes yielded 69 eels 103-699 millimeters [mm] long. Other species included blue crab, crayfish, rock bass, red-breast sunfish, bluegill, brown bullhead, and - surprisingly - a ten-inch-long brown trout. We had an odd occurrence when a groundhog fell out of a tree and landed with a loud "whump" just a few feet from where we were recording data about the fish. It sat there for a minute and then slowly waddled off.
- Chris Bowser, Sarah Mount, Zoraida Maloney

7/18 - Hathaway's Glen, HRM 63: It was not yet 5:00 AM, barely first light, still an hour from sunrise, and the air already had a warm, humid closeness (the day would later reach 96 degrees F). The beach at Hathaways's Glen is the terminus of a small, cold water brook that spills down the fall line into a short run to the river. The inland reach of the river is only a couple of hundred feet in length. The river shallows just outside the brook were 80 degrees. Less than 200 feet upstream, in a small pool in the shade of cottonwoods and box elders, the water was 71 degrees.
Despite not finding a single blade of submerged aquatic vegetation, we still caught a net full of fish. Among them were many young-of-the-year fishes such as Atlantic needlefish (100 mm), blueback herring (44-46 mm) alewives (62-68 mm), striped bass (44-52 mm), spottail shiners (30-32 mm), hogchokers (42-44 mm), and white perch (20-44 mm). Others in the seine included red-breast and pumpkinseed sunfish, adult spottail shiners (105-110 mm), tessellated darters, and male banded killifish in full breeding regalia.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Young-of-the-year aptly describes the multitude of recently hatched fauna found in the Hudson River each summer and fall. The progeny of shad, river herring, striped bass, white perch, blue crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, and many others, are present by the millions. So many references are made of their presence that scientists abbreviate the phrase to YOY. Tom Lake.]

7/18 - Hudson Valley: In 16 of the last 21 days, the air temperature has reached 90 degrees F or more in the Hudson River Valley.
- National Weather Service

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