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Hudson River Almanac September 23 - September 30, 2012

OVERVIEW

The autumn migration slowed this week both in the air and in the water. Peak fall foliage had reached the High Peaks of the Adirondacks and color in varying amounts (generally based on tree species) has been working its way down the estuary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/27 - Westchester County, HRM 15: While working at the Fulton Avenue drawbridge of Eastchester Bay in Mount Vernon, we looked down at the waters of the industrial canal fed by the Hutchinson River that leads out under the New England Thruway to City Island. We were shocked to see that it was literally teeming with fish. Thousands of Atlantic menhaden, 15-18 inches long, were swarming in the canal. Coworkers at the draw bridge stated that, in over 25 years, they had never witnessed such an event.

- Scott Horecky

[There are a couple of possibilities: The water is not as polluted as we think and has adequate dissolved oxygen for these herring, or there was a school of bluefish not far away. Menhaden, seasonally common in Long Island Sound, have been known to "commit suicide" by leaping onto beaches and jetties while trying to escape bluefish. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/23 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: While fishing with worms at the Coxsackie Boat Launch, I caught a three-pound freshwater drum 14 inches long.

- Jerry B.

[Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) is not a native fish in the Hudson. They probably arrived here in the last 25 years through the New York State canal system and the Mohawk River connecting the Hudson River with the Great Lakes. In Lake Erie they are known colloquially as "sheepshead" - they have that look. Freshwater drum are lovers of mollusks and in the Great Lakes are known to consume large quantities of zebra mussels. Other members of the drum family found in the Hudson River are marine species and they include northern kingfish, croaker, spot, black drum, silver perch, and weakfish. Tom Lake.]


9/23 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: The tide was low in midday. The south side cove was still choked with water chestnut but the riverside shallows were clear, except for a thick coating of duckweed. We decided to seine there for an audience of fifty. While we caught a few striped bass 75-77 millimeters [mm] long, the dominant fish in the net were young-of-the-year [YOY] blueback herring (56-73 mm). This late in the season, these were likely all Mohawk River fish born in summer and now out-migrating to the sea in early autumn. With some extraordinary good fortune, some of them will return in four years as adults to spawn in the Hudson, or more likely above the Waterford Flight into the Mohawk system. The river was 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Stuart Findlay, Tom Lake

9/23 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: I watched a couple of young boys as they fished for blue crab bait (hoping for white perch) and caught half-a-bucket full of spot, all 6-7 inches long. They made quite a bit of noise ("grunting") as the fish hook was removed.

- John Jesek

[Spot (Leiostomus xanthurus) are a saltwater species of the drum family. Finding them in the Annsville Creek tributary this far upriver was a bit of a surprise. They get their name from a conspicuous black spot just behind their gill opening and above the pectoral fin. While spot are found occasionally in summer in the brackish lower estuary, they are far more common farther down the coast from southern New Jersey to Maryland. They have a colloquial name of "Lafayette," a name passed down in river lore since 1824, when a visit of that Revolutionary War general to Manhattan coincided with a great run of these fish in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. Tom Lake.]

9/23 - Bedford, HRM 35: While the migrating raptor show was somewhat limited today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, we did count 133 monarch butterflies on their way south. Broad-winged hawks numbered 121; over the season, this species has accounted for a full 80 percent of our raptor sightings.

- Tait Johansson, Chet Friedman, Jim Jones, Orlando Hidalgo, Walt Fowler

9/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Songbird-watching does not always require a great degree of quiet and stealth, but coyote-watching does. The early-morning numbers of bluebirds, blackbirds, and vireos seemed impressive until a line of three coyotes, upwind of me, slowly ambled down along the tree line. Each was a different color: blonde, chestnut, dark gray. Sitting as still as possible, hidden behind a tree, they passed within a couple hundred feet before disappearing along the railroad tracks.

- Tom Lake

9/24 - Bedford, HRM 35: A few small broad-winged kettles (the largest with 30 birds) passed our Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today. The majority of the other raptors counted were individual birds speeding west at relatively low altitudes. The counters were treated to some nice views of low flying sharp-shinned hawks and American kestrels. The monarch count was 24.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside, Jack Kozuchowski

9/25 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had scattered frost again this morning. This coming weekend should be peak foliage of the fall season in the central Adirondacks. There are some stunning colors right now that contrast beautifully with the green leaves that have yet to change. I would estimate that we are currently at 50-75 percent of leaf color change.

- Charlotte Demers

9/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: We heard them before we saw them, and then a long staggered flock (40 birds) of raucous, migrating blue jays came charging down the tree line before settling into the canopies of several tall tamaracks. At a much less frenetic pace, a dozen monarchs were also heading south. We mention monarchs almost every day in autumn; if their migration was not so miraculous, their story would not be so compelling.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

9/25 - Bedford, HRM 35: The broad-winged hawks were still coming! We had a few more medium-sized kettles today that appeared low in the east. Almost all of the birds counted today, including those in the kettles, were flying west. This morning sightings included some of the closest looks at kettles we've had all season; many birds could be aged without the use of binoculars. The monarch count was 35.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside, Jim Jones

9/26 - Beacon, HRM 61: The tide was high and the beach was barely "fish-able." Our seine became hung-down every few feet as we hauled our net across what is normally a wide swath of rocky and sandy beach at low tide. Despite having to work far harder than we'd like, we managed to save much of the catch for identification. Included were many YOY penny-to-quarter-sized blue crabs, banded killifish, tessellated darters, and small striped bass (72-76 mm). The river was 73 degrees F and the salinity barely registered.

- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

9/26 - Bedford, HRM 35: Although there did not appear to be a huge raptor migration today, quite a few local raptors were seen hunting from the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch platform. In one spectacular feat of aerial acrobatics, we watched a red-tailed hawk flip over sideways in the air and snatch a perched bird out of a tree (it was definitely a karate-style move). Other exciting raptor moments today included a merlin sighting, some close sharp-shinned hawk fly-bys, and a kettle of 23 turkey vultures.

- Genevieve Rozhon

9/27 - Millbrook, HRM 82: We were surrounded by several dozen black-and-white Holstein dairy cows when a large flock, a hundred birds or more, came in on the north wind and darkened the canopies of several trees. We thought it was quite ironic when we saw that it was a flock of male and female brown-headed cowbirds.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

9/27 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Primordial magic: It was 6:00 AM and there was a hint of pre-dawn light in the east. The coyote chorus in the forest began and grew louder for nearly a minute before subsiding. It was either the echoes of a few, or the voices of many.

- Tom Lake

9/27 - Bedford, HRM 35: Broad-winged hawks were still on the move (156 today). All the broad-wings appeared out of the east (no kettles were observed; the birds were just seen streaming high overhead). Today was also an excellent day at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch for viewing bald eagles. We counted eight including juvenile, sub-adult, and adult birds. Migrating sharp-shinned hawks were seen all day long. Monarch count was 13.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Adam Zorn, Angela Woodside, Charles Bobelis, Chet Friedman,
Ed Williams, Elaine Kellogg, Rick Fisher, Tait Johansson

9/28 - Sandy Hook (Bayside), NJ: It was still summer at Sandy Hook; there was no sign of the winter waterfowl that will fill the bays and coves in the coming months. In the clear water of a bayside cove, I watched schools of striped killifish continually travel up and down along the spartina-lined shallows. Not far away a small snowy egret was stalking the killifish, posing then striking; it was incredibly efficient - rarely missing. Half-a-bay away a long, tall great egret was similarly engaged but was having much less success. Maybe it was simply skill-level, or perhaps the greater distance that its bill had to travel afforded the killifish a better chance to escape.

- Tom Lake

9/28 - Bedford, HRM 35: When a second bout of heavy rain stopped around midday, the raptors really "got out of Dodge." The majority of birds counted at the Chesnut Ridge Hawkwatch were seen migrating during a one to two hour window in between rain showers.
- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside

9/29 - Bedford, HRM 35: The majority of raptors counted today were sharp-shinned hawks or American kestrels. The best look of the day was of a juvenile bald eagle that flew right by the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch observation platform.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Jack Kozuchowski

9/29 - Sandy Hook (Bayside), NJ: Cast-netters dotted the beach at Spermaceti Cove, tossing their nets into schools of white mullet. Were the fish for bait or to eat? The fishermen assured me they were to eat. Mullet can reach a foot in length; these small fish 3-5 inches long - called "finger mullet" due to their size and shape - are a major forage species along the Atlantic coast from New England to Florida.

- Tom Lake

[Mullet are a family of saltwater fish found on the Atlantic Coast from New England south to the Caribbean. In the southern end of their range they spawn in the ocean and spend their lives in estuaries, inland waterways and canals. It is a common sight to see scores of mullet leaping out of the water to escape tarpon or snook. In our area we have two species, white mullet and striped mullet. Both fish are a somewhat uncommon summer and fall stray into brackish water. Tom Lake.]

9/29 - Sandy Hook (Oceanside), NJ: At first light we could still see the huge storm clouds moving away to the east over the open ocean. Yesterday's day-long storm had dropped two inches of rain. With a backdrop of dawn, we could see the storm clouds releasing curtains of rain far offshore. The full moon surf was rollicking and small bluefish ("tailor blues" 15-20 inches long) were marauding in the breakers, chasing menhaden and mullet. There were summer flounder in the sandy shallows behind the surf, as well as striped sea robins.

- Tom Lake

A young of the year bluefish (also called a snapper at this stage) in a persons hand.

An angler shows off his catch of a 7-10 pound bluefish (also known as a chopper blue at this size).

["Tailor" or "cocktail" are two of the many colloquial names applied to bluefish of every age and size. Mostnames refer to their teeth and the strength of their jaws. YOY blues are called "snappers"; one-year-olds, or yearlings, are known as "cocktail" or "tailor" blues. Once they reach the 7-10 pound range, anglers speak of "choppers" or "slammers." Names like "alligator" and "gorilla" blues are reserved for the very largest and meanest of bluefish, as large as 20 pounds or more. Tom Lake. Snapper blue photo by Steve Stanne; chopper blue by Scott Cuppett.]

9/30 - Connolly, HRM 92: We had an interesting weather day today, missing storms to the north and south. I was on my boat in Rondout Creek in early evening, watching a large thunderstorm just to the north. It was quite spectacular from a distance. I think the storm flushed an adult bald eagle; it flew away, downriver, where it perched in a tree across the creek. I watched the bird for a half hour - quite a creature, commanding the area with no concern. The back of his head had some dark feathers running up along the center. His talons were golden in the low sunlight against a dark wall of clouds to the north and east. I think this is the same eagle I've seen a couple of times this season but on this occasion I had plenty of time to watch. There's certainly no missing one when they are around.

- W. Murray

9/30 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We went to the Humpo Marsh this evening to see if wood ducks were coming in to spend the night. We might not have been there at the right time, or the wood ducks were not dropping in because the marsh had less open water than in other years, but in any case, we didn't see any. However, small flocks of red-winged blackbirds flew in and dropped into the large areas of phragmites, keeping up a constant sound of muted ticks and chucks with an occasional spring-like "conk-a-reeee." Fall crickets sang in place of spring peepers. A red-bellied woodpecker "chuffed" and tapped. We spotted two red-headed woodpeckers in the distant dead trees on the south end of the marsh. A small flock of Canada geese flew in and landed out of sight at the north edge. I noticed what looked like a white plastic bag hanging high in a tree above the marsh. Through my binoculars it became an adult bald eagle. It stayed at its perch, watching, stretching, and preening. After the sun set, a cool breeze came up. Chilled, we stayed another 15 minutes to see if any wood ducks would arrive but none came. As we folded up our chairs the eagle flew to a more sheltered perch, still with a view of the marsh.

- Lynn Bowdery

9/30 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: While we see, if we look, coyotes at any hour of the day or night, nearly all vocalizing occurs after dark and before dawn. So it was unexpected when today's noon whistle set off an incredible chorus of coyote yips and wails that lasted several minutes in the woods along the river.

- Tom Lake

9/30 - Bedford, HRM 35: Sharp-shinned hawks made up the majority of raptors counted at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today. A few more broad-winged hawks floated by with a handful of American kestrels and several osprey. Broad-wings, as a percentage of total raptor sightings this season, had fallen to 77 percent.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside, Chet Friedman


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