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Hudson River Almanac September 1 - September 8, 2012

OVERVIEW

This week includes another look back one year to when the remnants of tropical storm Lee piled on to the hit from Irene and flooded the watershed once more. Violent weather visited us this week as well with two tornados touching down in New York City in Brooklyn and Queens.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/2 - North Germantown HRM 109. A stiff southerly breeze raised small whitecaps on the river this morning. I noticed a few monarch butterflies headed south, doing their best against the headwind. Later, I happened to walk in the lee of a small group of pines where I discovered dozens of monarchs taking shelter from the wind. Later in the day, after the wind had died down, I revisited the site and found, as expected, that the monarchs had resumed their flight.

- Kaare Christian

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/1 - Saratoga County, HRM 186: While autumn migrations occur throughout the state, it is easy to notice how both birds and butterflies tend to favor north-south trending rivers and valleys as flyways. We counted more than a dozen monarchs today taking advantage of a light westerly breeze to tack their way south.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[Monarch butterflies bred in the Hudson River watershed migrate south as much as 2,700 miles to a wintering location in a mountain forest near Mexico City. They arrive in large numbers to the same roosts, often to the exact same trees. The length of the journey far exceeds the lifetime of a single monarch, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer. The last generation of the summer lives up to seven months, during which time it migrates to the wintering location. This generation does not reproduce until it leaves the following spring. How monarchs manage to return to the same wintering locale over a span of several generations is a mystery. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall. Tom Lake.]

9/1 - Ulster County, HRM 97: While canoeing on the Esopus with two friends, we had a long sighting of an adult bald eagle coming toward us, quite low along the length of the water, going over our heads and continuing on heading away from us. I've lived here for two years and this was my first sighting.

- Carol Countryman

9/1 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: As I looked out over the tidal Wappinger Creek early this evening, the air was filled with insects glinting in the sunlight. Making the most of this abundant food were a few dozen northern rough-winged swallows, diving in turns to swoop down in small groups and catch the insects just above the surface of the water. Close by a great egret was delicately creeping through the water chestnut as a black-crowned night heron looked on, both concentrating so hard on finding food that they didn't seem notice the other's presence. A little farther along the creek I sat to watch a second great egret go about its business. It caught an eel from below the water chestnut but seemed to be so confused by it wriggling in its mouth that it ended up dropping it. Moments later a great blue heron landed nearby and proceeded to run at the egret while calling and flapping. The egret moved thirty feet away and continued to forage. The great blue repeated this behavior three or four times before finally giving up and accepting that the egret would not be leaving!

- Jamie Collins

9/1 - Brooklyn, New York City: It was a clear moonlit night as we walked across the Third Street Bridge on the Gowanus Canal. Looking up, we saw a large bird swoop beneath the bridge, seeming to come from a small grove of trees on an abandoned property along the canal. It proceeded to land on a berm of refuse in the Gowanus where it sat still for as long as we watched. We could then see that it was a black-crowned night heron.

- Bob Sullivan

9/2 - Ulster County, HRM 91: As we were traveling along Rondout Creek today a mink suddenly popped up. It had crossed a very shallow rocky reach of the creek. It appeared to be on a mission but stopped to look at us for a few seconds. Then it quickly returned to the far side and disappeared into the woodland.

- Laura Van Vlack, Jim Munson

9/2 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: One year ago today, in the wake of hurricane-turned-tropical storm Irene, the inshore shallows were so sediment-laden that they had a "syrupy" consistency; the Hudson, running fast seaward, was the color of tomato soup.

- Tom Lake

9/2 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I sent you a couple of digital images of fish I saw today. I know nothing about the fish in the creek so I'd love to know for my records what they are as I always see them.

- Jamie Collins

A redbreast sunfish swimming in a creek
A pumpkinseed sunfish swimming in a creek

[Jamie's two photos were excellent images of two common species of sunfish swimming in the shallows: redbreast [L]and pumpkinseed [R]. While not all fish are so easily identified through the lens of water, many of them are when size, color, silhouette, time of the year and location, and behavior are all considered. One of the best guides for this activity is Fish Watching: An Outdoor Guide to Freshwater Fishes (1994) by Dr. C. Lavett Smith, Curator Emeritus of Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural history. Tom Lake.]

9/2 - Piermont, HRM 25: One year ago today we spotted a Caspian tern on the Pier, a very uncommon species that had likely been blown here by the storm.

- Margie Turin, Linda Pistolesi

9/3 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Mats of water chestnut can become so thick in the tidal shallows of marshes, coves, and bays that they provide a relatively stable "boardwalk" for wildlife. This morning we watched a young white-tailed deer make its way across a broad expanse of water chestnut with several feet of water beneath.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[Eurasian water chestnut (Trapa natans) is an invasive freshwater aquatic plant that is native to Europe and Asia. It is believed to have been introduced to the Hudson River watershed in the late nineteenth century. Tom Lake.]

9/3 - Kowawese, HRM 59: How many cormorants can fit on a snag? Over the last week we have been watching cormorants lined up on a ten-foot-long horizontal limb of a tree mired in a sandbar several hundred feet offshore. We have counted as many as a dozen birds on the limb but the capacity dwindles if any of them strike the familiar "Dracula" pose as they dry their wings.

- Tom Lake. A. Danforth

9/4 - Town of New Paltz, HRM 78: I spotted two red-headed woodpeckers this morning at the Weston Road swamp. This was a first for me so it was quite exciting. There may have been more but the sky was dark and gray so I wasn't sure.

- Roland Ellis

9/4 - Beacon, HRM 61: Seining the beach at Long Dock is very problematic from mid-June until late September as water chestnut takes over the shallows. Unlike other aquatic plants, water chestnut mats become impenetrable for a net. Additionally, their seeds carry sharp barbs that manage to poke netters in their hands, arms and legs, making seining considerably less enjoyable. We hauled our net for thirty minutes and then spent another thirty minutes picking out the seeds. Our catch was dominated by banded killifish with no sign of the bay anchovies from a few days ago. The river was 79 degrees Fahrenheit and the salinity was 2.0 parts per thousand [ppt].

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The seeds of the water chestnut are the size of a Brussels sprout, and are the bane of barefoot beach walkers. Unless they are handled carefully, the hooked barbs can cause serious pain and possible infection. Students who visit the river refer to them as "devil's heads" - they have that look! Another colloquial name is "water caltrop," referencing a device with sharp points used by armies to slow down advancing troops. Tom Lake.]

9/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I refilled the hummingbird feeders this morning as there are still a few birds around. Then I looked this afternoon to make sure there was enough for "hummingbird dinner." One feeder was full but the other was being emptied by a swarm of yellow jackets. The feeder was soon empty and hung with wasps so thick I could not see the plastic of the feeder. The feeding holes were 4-5 wasps deep, all frantically feeding, When too many gathered, they fell in a clump to be immediately replaced by new wasps that had been circling. A half hour later, the yellow jackets, every last one, were gone and the feeders were empty.

- Robin Fox

9/5 - Newcomb, HRM 302: An inch-and-a-quarter of rain fell overnight but it was a case of "too little, too late" for the flowers, shrubs and trees. Like the rest of the region, this summer has been very dry and I am already beginning to see a lot of leaf-fall from stressed trees. Autumn is inching its way forward: the witch-hobble bush (Viburnum alnifolium) leaves are beginning to turn their beautiful deep plum color and the hillsides are starting to have a blush of red and orange. Wild sarsaparilla leaves are bright yellow on the forest floor. Today's highlight was watching a pileated woodpecker feeding on winterberry (Ilex verticillata). The stem of the shrub couldn't have been thicker than my thumb and was deeply bent over with this large bird clinging to the small branches. The woodpecker was hanging upside down, sideways and every which way while he picked off the ripe berries and consumed them. I watched him pick all of the bright red berries off the shrub, leaving the unripe ones behind, possibly for later consumption

- Charlotte Demers

9/5 - Schodack, HRM 139: I counted six road-killed gray squirrels in my travels today while avoiding hitting just as many. I remember many years ago that there were a very high number of road-killed squirrels and I wonder if similar factors have led to the same situation this September.

- MaryEllen Grimaldi

[Depending on what they (squirrels) sense is in store for the upcoming winter season, squirrels becomes very busy in later summer and fall collecting forage (mast crop - acorns) for winter storage. Road crossings, along with eager raptors, are just some of the hazards. Tom Lake.]

9/5 - Schodack, HRM 137: I have been following the disappearance dates of ruby-throated hummingbirds for many years. At our Adirondack cabin they are almost always gone by September 4. However, in my area it's always a few days later. The disappearance tends to be abrupt. Last year it was on September 8. This year my feeders slowed down in late August but I suspect that it may partly be due to the birds switching some of their attention to the many flowers in my yard. Ruby-throats summer very far north into Canada but the local population seemed much larger than usual this year. The rose-breasted grosbeaks vanished from my yard weeks ago; they seem to be the first birds to disappear every year.

- Tom Warner

9/5 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Remnants of Hurricane Isaac swept through with more than an inch of rain. At its heaviest in midday, I counted ten monarchs patiently waiting on the limb of a cottonwood for the storm to abate. By mid-afternoon in partial sunshine, they were once again being slowly pushed on by some mild westerlies.

- Tom Lake

9/5 - Putnam County, HRM 55: In the mountains at Copperhead Cut, we've had great horned owls calling for the past few nights. Yellow jackets have taken possession of the grapes on the arbor.

- Connie Mayer-Bakall

9/6 - Kowawese, HRM 59: As a backdrop to our seining this morning, low clouds and rain shrouded Storm King at the northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands. Our catch was dominated by Atlantic silversides; after a steady diet of freshwater fish on this beach for most of the year, it has been nice to find brackish-saltwater fish in the last month. During a beach walk we came upon ten immature blue crab moults 33-35 millimeters [mm] wide strewn along the tide line, half of which were from females ("sallys"). The river was 77 degrees F - salinity 2.0 ppt.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[As crustaceans, blue crabs have an exoskeleton that they must shed periodically in order to grow. A shed exoskeleton, or moult, is an exact replica of the crab except that when you open the carapace, you see that no one is home. The "new" crab is now out in the shallows, noticeably larger, waiting for its soft shell to harden. Tom Lake.]

9/6 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: My Betty Prior rosebush that has suffered years of assault - chipmunks eating her roots, woodchucks digging her up and tossing her aside, regular loss of leaves from black fungus, etc. - is once again flourishing. I recently removed this summer's fungus-spotted leaves so only bare stems remained - sad looking - but now a full crop of lovely, delicate leaves cover the bush. I watched as hummingbirds, beguiled by their rosy, pinky-brown color, tried feeding on the new leaves.

- Robin Fox

9/6 - Croton River, HRM 34: One year ago today, Charlie Roberto and I watched a northern wheatear forage along the tide line of the lower Croton River. This was yet another uncommon-to-rare species that may have been brought here by Irene.

- Christopher Letts

9/7 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: One year ago today, the already incredible seaward flow on the ebb tide was being augmented by two days of relentless rain (3.5 inches), remnants of tropical storm Lee.

- Tom Lake

9/7 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: In our estimation, Bowdoin Park is the best location, year-round, for viewing bluebirds. We had a wonderful time today following hedgerows, shrubbery, and small trees - their preferred habitat - and lost count of them at more than 50 birds. And as much as we love bluebirds, another highlight was a great crested flycatcher that perched for a few minutes on the cab of a backhoe.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

9/8 - Manhattan, HRM 9.6: One year ago, floodwaters from Irene and Lee were pouring into the estuary. The force of this onslaught drove salty seawater south to New York Harbor. The graph below, based on Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System [HRECOS] data, shows that the river ran fresh at the George Washington Bridge shortly after Irene hit. Seawater advanced to the bridge again on 9/1, pushing north with each flood tide and retreating on the ebb. On 9/8, Lee's runoff brought fresh water to the bridge once more. This year, with drier-than-normal conditions coming into September, salinity at the bridge is about half that of the Atlantic Ocean off New York and New Jersey.

- Steve Stanne

A line graph showing how the salinity was much higher in 2012 than in 2011 at the George Washington Bridge

[The HRECOS network of sensors takes the river's vital signs every 15 minutes and posts the information to the web. Visit www.hrecos.org and click on Current Conditions to check it out. Steve Stanne.]

9/8 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Heavy rain (more than one inch) and occasional hail characterized a violent stormy day. The lower Hudson Valley was under a tornado watch and warning most of the midday. Through it all, several hummingbirds made dashes for the feeders. By evening, a cold front had arrived from the west giving us an incredibly colorful sunset that stretched far to the north and south and well overhead.

- Tom Lake

9/8 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: In the evening, after the wind and rain blew through, I went for a walk. I saw the red fox that I've been hearing about from neighbors. It pranced along, almost on tippy toes. Half way across the road it stopped to look back, then proceeded on to the Stony Kill Farm property. What a spectacular sight as the western sky turned a brilliant salmon-pink with sunset.

- Andra Sramek

9/8 - Queens, New York City: In advance of a strong cold front, a string of severe thunderstorms swept across northern New Jersey, New York, and southern Connecticut. A water spout came off the Atlantic, hit land at Breezy Point, and became a tornado with 70 mph winds uprooting trees and tearing roofs off buildings.

- National Weather Service

9/8 - Brooklyn, New York City: A second tornado, with winds to 110 mph, developed a while later ten miles east from Breezy Point. It careened through the Canarsie area damaging homes and trees. There were no human casualties from either tornado.

- National Weather Service

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