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Hudson River Almanac July 19 - July 25, 2012

OVERVIEW

This week's feature was our fourth annual Hudson River Day. We used the opportunity to sample the watershed in ten separate locations to see how many of the Hudson's 219 species of fish would be found.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/23 - Ossining, HRM 33: A luna moth saga unfolded near our front door over the last five days. On the morning of day one, a female luna moth was resting on our front door; day two she was found in the same spot, mating with a male who had arrived overnight. They remained coupled when we retired; by day three they were uncoupled but hadn't moved away from each other; day four she had moved a few yards away; today, day five, she was gone and he had moved to another spot, looking very bedraggled. Our guess is that she had gone to our big shagbark hickory to lay her eggs and he was dying.

- Gerhard and Hale Randers-Pehrson

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/19 - North Creek, HRM 257: It was not difficult by any means to spot the adult bald eagle that was flying lazily upstream above the State Route 28N bridge over the Hudson River in North Creek. The last time I had seen a bald eagle of any age around here was back 18 years ago in the Town of Newcomb.

- Mike Corey

7/19 - Lake Luzerne, HRM 208: Wells Creek is a small tributary stream to the Hudson River that shows many signs of human impact from derelict bridge abutments to teetering stone walls. In keeping with its diminutive size, this setting - in contrast to the rousing river not far away - encouraged simple observations. For nearly an hour I sat and watched flycatchers, mostly phoebes, work the narrow, wooded corridor to the river. They never landed for more than a few seconds before heading off on another brief foray over the water and along the stone walls, feeding on whatever was in the air. Just as I was leaving I saw a red flash in the trees and soon had a nice look at a gorgeous scarlet tanager. I tried to not let that sudden burst of color overshadow the subtleties of the last hour.

- Tom Lake

7/20 - Minerva, HRM 284: There is an active osprey nest at Minerva Lake. Two adults can be seen flying and calling above the lake during both morning and afternoon hours. Babies in the nest can be spotted from afar, being fed (no doubt) choice fish parts. To think that little old Minerva Lake, with all its beach crowds, could still be a successful home to ospreys is a very neat thing.

- Mike Corey

7/20 - Saratoga National Historical Park; HRM 177.5: As I drove south along the Hudson River an adult bald eagle kept pace, seeming to follow the path of the road, a couple of hundred feet overhead. The eagle's white head glowed in the strong afternoon sunlight. This scenario occurred once before, almost identically, as I traveled the same direction on the same road in the same spot, on the first day of spring more than a decade ago, with what was likely a different adult eagle

- Tom Lake

7/20 - Green Island, HRM 152: It was two hours before high tide not far below the federal dam, and on a bright sunny afternoon the surface of the river was "dimpling" as though a light rain was falling. Occasionally there would be an explosion as scores or more of young-of-the-year [YOY] river herring (most likely blueback herring) would explode from the water to escape a predator. In this reach of the river it could mean largemouth or smallmouth bass, pickerel or northern pike, walleye, or even tiger muskellunge. Chris Letts describes the showering of these small silver fish as like "someone tossing a handful of shiny new dimes into the water."

- Tom Lake

7/20 - Bearsville, Ulster County, HRM 102: A woodcock flushed from the same area of stream bank twice in two days this week. It gave a "peent" call while on the wing and quickly dropped into tall meadow grass.

- Krista Munger


7/20 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The hummingbird festival in my yard was in full swing. However, it seems to me that there are fewer participants this year. During the day I count five regulars. Counting hummingbirds is a chancy business. I count four birds that look like females or immatures, and one tiny, slender male with its shiny, scarlet cravat. By evening at least twice that number are zooming around the garden. They lunge, dart, circle, swoop, and then a pair go belly-to-belly and ascend upward, out of sight. The acrobatics are enlivened by tiny bees that have found the feeders. The hummingbirds end up jousting with the bees as well as each other. I find myself filling feeders several times a day. No complaints!

- Robin Fox

7/21- Little Stony Point, HRM 55: We were one of ten watershed locations that were fish-sampling today as part of the fourth annual Hudson River Day. This beach, besides being a wonderful place to haul a seine, lies in the shadow of Storm King Mountain and Mount Taurus, the two highest peaks in the Hudson Highlands, and offers unmatched ambience.

We hauled our 85-foot-long net on a dropping tide in water that was a tepid 82 degrees Fahrenheit. It seemed that every haul produced a rich variety of both brackish-water and freshwater species, among them were YOY blueback herring 52 millimeters [mm] long; alewives (55-60 mm); striped bass (32-58 mm); gizzard shad (105 mm), and spottail shiners (50-56 mm). One haul, in a secluded bay, netted a dozen YOY channel catfish (120 mm). However, two species deserve special mention: YOY bluefish (115 mm) and spot (110 mm). The presence of these typically saltwater species suggested measurable salinity in the water and it later proved to be 3.2 parts per thousand [ppt], about 10% the strength of seawater (coastal marine water, at this latitude, averages 32-35 ppt).

- Kevin Foley, Ralph Szur, Doug Gallagher, Tom Lake


7/21 - Piermont, HRM 25: At another of the ten locations fish-sampling on the fourth annual River Day, a group of Hudson River enthusiasts was joined by a team of Rockland County AmeriCorps volunteers to host the public as we ran our nets through the water at Flywheel Park. Our first pass netted a lone comb jelly that was enough to excite the group and launch another haul with the net. During the next two hours we pulled in shrimp, a dozen Atlantic silversides, YOY striped bass and alewives, several mummichogs, white perch, a small northern kingfish, an Atlantic needlefish (120 mm), and a striped mullet (140 mm). The presence of the mullet and kingfish suggested considerable salinity in the water that was later verified as 10.0 ppt. The water temperature was 79 degrees F.

- Margie Turrin, Laurie Seeman, Greg Mercurio, Rockland County AmeriCorps

7/21 - Hudson River Watershed, HRM 159-18: Our fourth annual River Day featured a new event - the Great Hudson River Fish Count - which sampled at ten locations across 141 miles of Hudson River watershed, from Yonkers opposite the New Jersey Palisades to Waterford at the junction of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. A total of 29 fish species were documented. These ranged from typically saltwater species such as bluefish, striped mullet, northern kingfish and spot, to others generally found only inland such as spotfin shiners and white suckers. In several locations, young-of-the-year fishes dominated - American shad, alewives, blueback herring, and striped bass. At the two southernmost sites - Piermont and Yonkers - aquatic invertebrates included comb jellies, moon jellyfish, shore and sand shrimp, and blue crabs.

- Steve Stanne

7/21 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: It was well after dark when I spotted a black-crowned night heron foraging near shore close to Edgewater's River Walk. I wondered where the bird went to roost. There did not seem to be much opportunity that close to urban Edgewater.
- Chris Murphy

7/22 - Town of Half Moon, HRM 165: Looking east across the Hudson at first light did not offer much color contrast, only silhouettes. I counted 24 birds in a line, swimming upstream against the modest current. Even at a distance they appeared to be geese and seconds later I heard their soft calls. Judging from the size of each bird, it seemed that there were 3-4 adults in front, 17-18 immatures in the middle of the line, and a couple of adults bringing up the rear. The alignment may have been random but seemed to be purposeful.

- Tom Lake

7/22 - Cohoes, HRM 157: At dawn, very little water was coming over the falls in the Mohawk River. The pools at the base of the falls and downstream were very shallow, leaving resident fish vulnerable. I spotted two osprey perched on power transmission stanchions, one on either side of the river. They did not appear to have fish but that might have been only a matter of time.

- Tom Lake

7/22 - Green Island, HRM 152: This east-facing beach is a special place to watch either sunrise or a full moon rise. Today it was sunrise with a cool southerly breeze on my face. I slowly walked toward a line of cottonwoods along the shore and spotted two eagles, an adult and an immature, perched close together on a stout limb. Despite my quiet approach, I flushed the pair. The adult headed upriver carrying a gizzard shad in its talons; the immature headed south. I may have inadvertently disturbed a tutoring session.

- Tom Lake

[Adult bald eagles, in particular the females, will spend the couple of months from fledging to fall mentoring their young on how to be an eagle. We are oblivious to much of this education, but on occasion we see the adults making practice dives on waterfowl, or their favorite targets - cormorants - with the immatures watching and learning. Tom Lake.]

7/22 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: It was a "Mummer's Parade" re-do [see 6/25] as three skunk babies made their way through my backyard with all three sticking together like glue. Mama must have kicked them out! They pranced and swaggered and fluffed their white tails coming closer and closer to where I sat. Suddenly they all stopped in their tracks no more than three feet away. They all took notice of me, raised their tails in unison, but then dropped them all at once. Off they staggered, this silly trio, heading to DEC's Stony Kill Farm.

- Andra Sramek

7/22 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I identified a new bird, for me, early this morning in the marsh adjacent to the Croton-Harmon railroad station. It was a marsh wren that sang continuously for a half hour. Try as I might, could not get it to come up for a look. I went back later and the wren was quiet, but spotted four snowy egrets (still mostly in breeding plumage), one great egret, and several great blue herons. There were three osprey perched at the top of the tallest light stanchion in the Metro North parking lot. One was feeding on a large fish.

- Larry Trachtenberg

7/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Midday became as dark as night as menacing black clouds led by lightning flashes rolled across the river from the west. Soon there was a brief respite from the heat and steaminess of the day as violent thunderstorms dropped more than two inches of rain in one hour. Throughout it all, the cicadas never let up their chatter, frequently exceeding the sounds of the thunder and driving rain.

- Tom Lake

7/23 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Ever vigilant, a mother wild turkey escorted her brood of eight young poults all around my yard this morning. While this turkey troupe was busy foraging below my bird feeders, it was amusing to watch as the hen turkey gave chase to any gray squirrel that dared to come too close to any of her brood. The squirrels quickly scurried for cover or chattered away up a tree limb.

- Ed Spaeth

7/24 - Bearsville, HRM 102: Black bears seemed to be either more abundant or hungrier this season, more so than old-timers recall. Perhaps food is scarce due to drought. One visited a dumpster in town on an evening this week. A smaller bear was spotted in the vicinity of the elementary school, and later in the neighborhood garbage cans. A third broke into a home on and caused much damage.

- Krista Munger

7/24 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: My tiny, restored, backyard garden seemed to be a success: two ruby-throated hummingbirds dashed back and forth between late-blooming hosta flowers and brilliant pink phlox; goldfinches sprinted between waning echinachea flowers, blooming thistle, and a maturing sunflower head; and monarch, black swallowtail and tiger swallowtail butterflies were all dancing around on the tops of the phlox.

- Andra Sramek

7/25 - Ravena, HRM 124: I looked out the window this evening onto my yard - a large, flat open area bordered by trees - and it was crowded. Swarms of dragonflies were swooping, turning, and diving in a huge flying circus. This year seems to have produced a larger crop than usual. It's always a delight to stop and just take in how many are at work. Although hawks and eagles are spectacular predators, these guys are pretty impressive at the scale they operate. I haven't noticed too many mosquitoes lately.

- Larry Roth

7/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Just after dawn, I listened to what sounded like a soft but distinct call of a red-tailed hawk: "k-i-r-r-r." The pitch and volume made me think juvenile, but since this is ordinarily a call made by soaring red-tails, and this bird was in a tree, I had my doubts. Then the bird flew as it called again - a blue jay, and a decent mimic.

- Tom Lake

7/25 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We seined the late-morning midday low tide at Kowawese in water that felt like simmering soup; the inshore shallows (waist deep) measured 84 degrees F. The salinity was 2.2 ppt. The catch of YOY fishes was exceptional: bluefish (120-125 mm); Atlantic menhaden (90-95 mm); striped bass (55-60 mm); gizzard shad (63-67 mm); many hundreds of blueback herring (51-53 mm); and seven other species. One student found a female ("Sally") blue crab moult (not quite 4" point-to-point), and that inspired a ten minute discussion of exoskeletons and "getting new clothes." This is beginning to remind us of summer 2002 when you could have renamed this stretch of shoreline "Barnacle Beach," as bay barnacles covered every bit of bottom substrate. That summer featured escalating salinity upriver as summer went on. - Tom Lake, A. Danforth

Young of the year blueback herring
Photo of YOY blueback herring by Kevin Foley

[Atlantic menhaden are a marine species of herring that spawn in salt-to-brackish water. Their young-of-the-year, also known colloquially as "peanut bunker" or "penny bunker," are found by the millions in the estuary in summer, providing forage for striped bass, bluefish, harriers, osprey, eagles and seals. Tom Lake.]

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