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Hudson River Almanac August 9 - August 15, 2012

OVERVIEW

The fall monarch migration seemed to be intensifying about two weeks earlier than last year, when the start of the migration ran into tropical storms Irene and Lee. In the lower estuary, the shorebird migration was well underway. Birds and butterflies shared the week with black bears.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/14 - Saugerties, HRM 102: In my yard this evening, I noticed several monarch butterfly wings on the ground under the butterfly bush. Lo and behold, in a "Wild Kingdom" moment, there was a giant praying mantis using my butterfly bush as a trap to grab butterflies as they went for the nectar. Seeing the torn wings - they were all monarchs - on the ground below was the tipoff. I thought nothing ate monarchs due to their relationship with the toxic milkweed.

- Virginia Luppino

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/9 - Waterford, HRM 159: With the first glow of dawn, the black silhouettes and shadows along the shore gained depth and color. We were seining at the top of the Waterford Flight, a series of five locks that lifts boats 170 feet above the Hudson River to the beginning of the Erie Canal and the entrance to the Mohawk River. There are no tides here - therefore, no rush to set a net before losing the tide as in the estuary. We beached our net in a stand of chairmaker's rush, or common three-square (Scirpus pungens), and caught a number of familiar fishes including young-of-the-year [YOY] blueback herring 55-60 millimeters [mm] long, smallmouth bass (81-83 mm), and banded killifish. Other species familiar to the Mohawk were logperch (63-76 mm) and emerald shiners (69-95 mm). In one haul, nestled among the logperch, was a single YOY alewife (65 mm), an river herring uncommon in the Mohawk. Nearly all of their spawning occurs in the estuary and its tributaries. However, there may be a landlocked population that could have originated from Hudson stock or migrated east from Lake Oneida. Water temperature in the Mohawk was 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[The logperch is a darter and one of seven true perches (Percidae) found in the Hudson River watershed. Better known members of the family include yellow perch and walleye (the white perch is actually a true bass, not a perch). Native to the Mississippi and Great Lakes drainages, the logperch is one of the signature fishes of the Mohawk River, from which they sometimes reach the Hudson. Tom Lake.]

8/9 - Green Island, HRM 152: With an eye on the tide, we stopped to watch an incredibly orange sun rise over Troy. Its welcome warmth struck us immediately. This is a mid-tide beach and we had timed it just right. At low tide you can get bogged down, sinking into the soft, silty bottom. Our catch was dominated by YOY blueback herring (59-67 mm) with a few tessellated darters and banded killifish.

- Tom Lake. A. Danforth

[Most Hudson River tidewater beaches have an optimal time to haul a net by hand. The majority become easier at low tide since this usually allows seiners to get farther offshore. But for some, mid-tide is necessary to avoid soft bottoms, mud flats, and excessive hang-downs. Tom Lake.]

8/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: I spotted an eagle flying overhead today, "kacking" loudly. I've heard this call several times in the past couple of weeks, but thought it might have been a juvenile hawk. Neighbors have also seen it soaring with its very large wing span in the image of a thunderbird. This was my first sighting of a bald eagle.

- Gayle Turowski

[Bald eagle vocalizations usually come as a surprise to listeners. You might expect this powerful and majestic symbol of America to have a commanding voice, instantly recognizable, even unforgettable. In reality they generally have a soft call that belies their size and is widely interpreted as "ki-ki-ki-ki" to "kack-kack-kack." During nesting season, communications between the adults, and with their nestlings, often sound like a soft chortle. Despite its modest tone, it is memorable, and their call is often a conversation stopper. Tom Lake.]

8/10 - Catskill, HRM 113: From the time I saw my first channel catfish in the late 1990s up to the present, their replacement of white catfish has been the most significant change in the fishery that I have ever witnessed. It has been close to a 95 percent takeover. Coupled with that has been the almost complete disappearance of brown bullheads in the main river. In the early 1970s, I used to catch white catfish and brown bullheads from the river and sell them to a local fish market. Such would be impossible today regardless of the state regulations. Smallmouth bass presently abound in the river although the larger ones have pulled their usual summertime disappearing act. The river's twenty-year transformation from primarily a largemouth bass sport fishery to one [with large numbers of] smallmouth bass has also been an amazing change.

- Tom Gentalen

A channel catfish and a white catfish were held side by side for comparison
Channel catfish (top) and white catfish (bottom) - photo by Steve Stanne.

8/10 - Connelly, HRM 92: Right after the drenching rain that crossed over the Rondout today, I heard a large splash on the opposite side of the creek. It sounded like someone doing a cannon ball dive into the water. Instead, it was an adult bald eagle that had dropped something big. It could have been a large fish or animal but I didn't see anything. It circled around and moved up the creek passing only fifty feet over my head. The bird's white head and tail stood out against the darkened sky. Its wingspan was even more impressive. This was my first sighting this year.

- William Murray

8/10 - Annsville Creek, 43.5: The marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) was in full bloom in the Camp Smith marsh. Each year I think it will be the last as the phragmites takes over, but the mallow has the will and the roots to survive, thankfully.

- Zshawn Sullivan

8/10 - Yonkers, HRM 18: A sewer line break in Tarrytown two days ago might seem disconnected from a fish kill on the lower two-mile section of the Sawmill River. The odd fact is that the sewer line is routed through the old Croton Aqueduct. The aqueduct carried the sewage and chlorine [added to disinfect the spilled sewage] down to Yonkers where it discharged into the Sawmill. Dead fish began appearing today. A Groundwork Hudson Valley intern and I spent a sad and distressing day netting and removing dead fish from Yonkers' new Day-Lighting Park. The fish count showed the diversity that has moved into the day-lighted section of the Sawmill. They included: 16 common carp, all over 20 inches long (the biggest at 28 inches, 12 lb.), seven white suckers (13-16 inches), 2 eels (25" and 30"), and 17 bluegills and white perch.

- Bob Walters, Sheikh Uddin

8/11- Ravena, HRM 133.5: I was taking advantage of late afternoon sunshine between torrential downpours to take a walk. I listened to water gurgling through normally dry culverts (2-3 inches of rain) when shrieking overhead got my attention. Three medium-sized hawks were flying around the tops of the trees. From the glimpses I got as they flew overhead I made a guess that they were Cooper's hawks. They had long straight tails with bars across and light coloring underneath; they made quite a sight as they swooped back and forth calling to each other.
- Larry Roth

8/11 - Saugerties, HRM 102: We've been hearing an eastern screech owl at dusk - a distinctive, eerie, whinny sound from the direction of the trailhead of the Saugerties Lighthouse Trail. It's a great sound. We had one living in our barn for years and it would regularly call in the middle of the day. It was so ethereal! You could look at it, just blink, and it would be gone. It made no sound when flying.

- Patrick Landewe, Dave Minch

8/11 - Dutchess County, HRM 77: I counted a dozen common mergansers resting on a log near the Hurley Road bridge over the Wappinger Creek in Salt Point. While watching them a great egret landed near them on a branch overlooking the creek.

- Bob Bowler

8/12 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: At dusk, I spotted a great egret fishing off a snag at the mouth of the creek; it shone bright white against the dark water and a clouded evening sky.

- Barbara Heinzen

8/12 - Dutchess County, HRM 77: I did not know that Carolina wrens could be such great mimics. I heard them around the yard singing, and distinctly heard a couple of different "cardinal songs" interspersed. I was pretty sure that it was coming from same wrens and then it was confirmed by sight. One of the wrens might have been a juvenile. They have been in the yard area for several days and I heard cardinal songs each time.

- Bob Bowler

8/12 - Dutchess County, HRM 63: A neighbor of my friends, Debbie and John Pereira, told them that a black bear has been raiding the seed from her backyard bird feeder near Whaley Lake.

- Ed Spaeth

8/12 - Beacon, HRM 61: The annual Beacon Sloop Club Corn Festival, held along the Hudson River, is a wonderful gathering of environmentally- conscious people who love the river and locally-grown corn on the cob. Passing by largely unnoticed throughout the afternoon were monarch butterflies. I counted eleven in two hours zig-zagging between tents, booths, and cast iron cauldrons boiling ears of corn. With a nice northwest breeze pushing them along, this was likely the start of autumn migration.

- Tom Lake, Betty Harkins

8/12 - Manitou, HRM 46.5: I got up very early this morning to see the Perseid meteor shower. I did get to see some meteors streaking through the sky but the best part of my early rising was being serenaded by a northern saw-whet owl.

- Zshawn Sullivan

8/12 - Manhattan, HRM 12.5: Today yielded the largest concentration of "peeps" so far this season (see 8/4 - Manhattan). There were easily 300-400 semipalmated sandpipers and 100-200 least sandpipers feeding on the exposed mud flat at Inwood Hill Park. I couldn't discern any other species due to the fact that they were so dispersed over the terrain and I lack a scope. While hardly a reliable shore-birding location (which is also why this recent influx of migrants is so exciting), Inwood Hill Park has hosted a few interesting birds. Most notable were willet, short-billed dowitcher, and a whimbrel that flew over thanks to tropical storm Irene last fall.

- Nadir Souirgi

8/13 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: I finally found some time to kayak at Nutten Hook where I'm usually guaranteed of an eagle sighting. It seemed as though the birds were throwing a welcome home party for me. Four bald eagles were in charge of entertainment as they danced in the sky. Two ospreys took care of food service as they dove into the water for fish and then flew past carrying their catch of the day.

- Fran Martino

8/13 - Oliverea, Ulster County, HRM 103: Today was "garbage day" in Oliverea. I joked with my friend in the car as we descended toward Route 28 that if you are going to see a black bear, today was the day. Five minutes later a black bear ran across the road in front of us.

- Vivian Yess Wadlin

8/13 - Saugerties to Tivoli, HRM 102: This is an entry from the New York Evening Post, reprinted in the Niles Register, for August 13, 1836.

"A party of ten persons of both sexes was crossing the Hudson from Saugerties to Tivoli in a little boat rowed by two of the party. As they reached the middle of the river a large sturgeon sprang from the water in front of them and threw his huge length into the bottom of the boat passing directly between the feet of the two gentlemen who sat foremost and laying himself exactly in the middle under the seats.

Great was the surprise and confusion but one of the gentlemen immediately caught the floundering fish by the tail and tied it fast with the boat's painter. The creature in the mean time uttered the most plaintiff sounds moaning with a noise much like that of a cow. It was taken to Tivoli where it was found to measure eight feet and a half in length and to weigh one hundred and fifty pounds. It was then cut up and given to the workmen of a foundry on the eastern bank of the river who made an excellent supper on this Albany beef.

If the sturgeon had thrown himself on one side of the heavily loaded boat it would have been overset or if he had darted among the women and children who sat in the hinder part of the boat and one of whom was an infant there is no knowing what might have happened."

- Dock Shuter

8/13 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Despite some heavy rains, the Hudson Highlands still showed measurable salt in the river - 2.4 parts per thousand [ppt]. The first indication, even before our measuring, was the dozen Atlantic silversides (66-69 mm) caught in our first haul. Each subsequent haul caught a dozen or more of these salt-to-brackish water fish. There were nearly as many YOY striped bass with a wide range of sizes (38-61 mm). The highlight was a YOY smallmouth bass (106 mm), brassy-brown with an orange-ringed caudal (tail) fin. The water was 81 degrees F.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Why do we seine? Fish are a rather cryptic, or hidden, aspect of the Hudson River Valley. Unlike birds and butterflies, even black bears, that can be seen, identified, and counted with little more than normal eyesight, fish reside in a hidden realm. They are hidden in that they are there, but you cannot see them. When you haul a seine ashore and fold back the meshes, it is not unlike opening a birthday present. Tom Lake.]

8/13 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: We stopped to seine on our way to Pier 84 in Manhattan for a Day in the Life of the Hudson River teacher workshop. Approaching the beach, we heard the call of an osprey even before we saw it. Overlooking the water from a branch high in a tree the osprey watched us approach and then took off over the water with a fish clutched tightly in its talons. I have always been impressed that ospreys have one opposable front talon that allows it to carry fish securely with two talons on either side of the fish. The osprey almost outdid our catch as our net yielded only a small bluefish and a few Atlantic silversides. Salinity was about 12.0 ppt.

- Margie Turrin, Steve Stanne, Zoraida Maloney

8/14 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: While I was eating breakfast this morning, I heard a loud chattering sound. When I went outside to track it down, I saw a belted kingfisher flying from one pond to another.

- Phyllis Marsteller

8/14 - Ulster Park, HRM 85: At dusk this evening, at least a half-dozen common nighthawks zoomed past. I had not seen one in years. Of course now they have to fly right by our house!

- William Drakert

8/14 - Queens, New York City: I spotted an American white pelican at the north end of the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The bird was resting and preening just beyond Dead Man's Cove on the west side.

- Andrew Baksh

[White pelicans are a bird of the Great Plains lakes on up through central Canada. Every year or so, one or more turn up somewhere in the Northeast with Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, west of Syracuse, high on their preferred list of destinations. In 1994, one spent a few days on the Mohawk River in the Niskayuna Wide-waters area. It had a visible tear in its left foot web, so it was readily identifiable. Observers noted it in subsequent weeks as it spent some time on the Hudson River, then on the coast of southern Connecticut. It was again spotted at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Pelicans are strong flyers with the ability to soar at great heights, covering long distances. Rich Guthrie.]

8/15 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: The bay between the Point and the outlet of Fishkill Creek was bank-to-bank water chestnut. The mats of vegetation were so thick I had to wonder how the wading birds fished. Yet, out on the water chestnut, often straddling a log or deadfall, were six great blue herons, three great egrets, and one black-crowned night heron.

- Tom Lake

8/15 - Brooklyn, New York City: The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy staff was conducting seining programs in the East River directly under the Manhattan Bridge for a group of students from the local YMCA. The little sandy cove setting was exquisite in the context of the surrounding and towering urban setting. Despite our expectation of seeing many species, repeated hauls netted only one, albeit scores of them: Atlantic silversides (43-85 mm). There were some invertebrates including many comb jellies (ctenophores), tiny moon jellyfish, and even tinier Asian shore crabs (3.0 mm). Throughout the programs, with a dropping tide, salinity ranged from 19.8 to 18.4 ppt. Monarchs kept up a fairly good pace flying down the East River from points north and east, toward the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. The East River was 76 degrees F.

- Nim Lee, Giulia Morrone, Charlotte Henderson, Louis Coppersmith, Tom Lake

[The Asian shore crab, sometimes called Japanese green crab, Japanese shore crab, and Pacific crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus), is an alien species that probably arrived in the U.S. in ship ballast. It is native to the inshore ocean areas around China and Japan. On the East Coast, a single specimen was recorded at Townsend Inlet, Cape May County, New Jersey in 1988, and it has since spread north to Massachusetts and south to North Carolina. This crab was first identified in the Hudson River in the summer of 1994 at The River Project (Pier 26) on the lower west side of Manhattan. The Asian shore crab favors rocky intertidal areas and occupies similar habitats to native mud crabs. Adults can grow to 42 mm carapace width. Tom Lake.]

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