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Hudson River Almanac October 1 - October 7, 2012

OVERVIEW


Our tenth annual Day in the Life of the Hudson River took place this week. This event engages students in sampling the estuary and its watershed at many locations along 200 miles of waterway. They collect information on the Hudson's water quality, physical condition, and fish and wildlife, taking a "snapshot" of its general ecological health. This year's sampling at 70 sites involved no fewer than 3,000 students. Only a few of the many observations contributed by participants are included in this Almanac; a special Day in the Life issue will be available online next week for participants and readers of the regular Almanac who might be interested.

Two young boys look at the juvenile black drum that was caught near Piermont, New York.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/6 - Piermont, HRM 25: We made an early morning seine haul off the pier to populate an aquaria display for the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Open House. Anglers on the pier noted that they have been catching loads of spot, more than in the last 30 years according to one long-time fisherman. The first two pulls of our net yielded an assortment of Atlantic silversides and small striped bass. Hoping for a spot, or at least one more species, we hauled the seine farther out and pulled in a beautiful juvenile black drum 140 millimeters [mm] long with a chin full of small barbels.
- Margie Turrin, Brent Turrin

[While the black drum (Pogonias cromis) is not unknown from the lower river and New York Harbor, their presence has diminished significantly in the last century. Black drum were added to our watershed fish list in August 2010 when an adult weighing nearly 30 lb. was taken at Piermont (adult black drum can reach 90 lb.) However, this may be the first juvenile black drum recorded for the estuary in at least the last half-century. Tom Lake. Photo of black drum in aquarium by Margie Turrin.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/1 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: I'd like to confirm that spot are at least this far upriver. I caught one tonight off Steamboat Dock in Verplanck. I took photos to try and identify it before throwing it back. I had no luck figuring it out until the Almanac solved my mystery fish for me!
- Jim Pappas

A small saltwater drum, or spot, was caught at Croton Point.

10/1 - Croton Point, HRM35-34: Spot seem to be everywhere this year, in bait nets, seines, even in my crab pots. They are not large, none over 10", but they are plentiful and attractive.
- Christopher Letts

[I learned to call these small saltwater drum "Norfolk" spot many years ago, a common name that refers to Norfolk, Virginia, and their abundance in Chesapeake Bay. Christopher Letts. Photo by Tom Lake.]

10/1 - Bedford, HRM 35: Our first northern goshawk of the season was seen today. The bird hung around the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch for a short while before heading southwest. Sharp-shinned hawks also put on a good show; 71 were counted including a few adult birds. The monarch count was eight.
- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside

10/2 - Bedford, HRM 35: This morning the Chestnut Ridge hawk-watchers were able to count for three hours before they were rained off the ridge. There was a small push of raptors right before the rain, in particular sharp-shinned hawks (18).
- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside

10/2 - Croton Bay, HRM34: Anglers have been reporting some interesting hook-and-line catches: foot-long striped mullet, dozens of spot, weakfish to 3 lb., and 2-3 lb. Spanish mackerel. The mackerel are lovely to look at and oh-so-good on the grill!
- Christopher Letts

[Weakfish (Cynoscion regalis) is another one of the seven species of drum in the estuary. They are a highly prized saltwater sport fish along the Mid-Atlantic coast, becoming increasingly abundant farther south into Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. Tom Lake.]

10/3 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: It's not just birds that are migrating this time of year. With the rainy days this week, coupled with warm temperatures, I saw at least a dozen frogs crossing the road as I was driving home in the rain just after sunset. One was practically sprinting. The warmth and the rain had them on the move to find a good place to spend the winter. Soon I'll have to drain the small lily pond in my garden to capture the frogs that have been living there all summer. It's not deep enough or big enough for them to survive the freezing times to come. They're already turning darker in anticipation of burrowing into the mud.
- Larry Roth

10/3 - Bedford, HRM 35: Although the Chestnut Ridge hawk-watchers attempted to count today, extremely dense fog, rain, and thunder defeated them in the end. Only two raptors were counted: One was an unidentified accipiter briefly glimpsed as it floated through the fog like a phantom. The other was a juvenile Cooper's hawk that came over the platform and headed west.
- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside

10/3 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: For the first time in too many years, tiny, young-of-the-year [YOY] flounder, both winter and summer ("fluke") flounder, have been showing up in my seine off Bloomers Beach. We have also been catching silver perch in nearly every haul.
- Christopher Letts

[Silver perch, found seasonally in the brackish reach of the estuary, are still another member of the drum family of fishes that includes northern kingfish, croaker, weakfish and spot. Most of them have highly specialized swim bladders that serve as sound-producing organs. This has led to the colloquial name of "drum." C. Lavett Smith.]

10/4 - Green Island, HRM 153: Rain failed to disturb the excitement of our Day in the Life of the River morning, but our data sheets didn't survive the wet. Our Robert C. Parker School students collected data, observed the shoreline, and examined the estuary for unusual life. We pulled our nets through the water at Green Island near the federal dam with a sense of anticipation. With the tides being favorable, our nets filled to brimming with more than 200 spottail shiners, two YOY river herring, three smallmouth bass, and two bluegill sunfish. Smiles abounded!
- Kate Perry

10/4 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: It was a foggy, still morning at the Sojourner Truth Park with Canada geese honking, hidden by the gloom. About 80 were resting in the shallows at low tide. An osprey flew past, southbound. Each pull of our seine was difficult due to the excessive mud close to shore, which historically has been mainly sand. Our prize Day in the Life of the River catch was a hogchoker. The Kingston High School students were excited by this flounder-like fish in the freshwater section of the estuary.
- Dixon Onderdonk

[Hogchokers are delightful little soles, found in brackish to freshwater, ranging in size from a penny to the palm of your hand. If you stroke these little flatfish from head-to-tail, they are incredibly smooth. However, if you run your finger from tail to head, it will feel like fine teeth on a saw. Wise predators have learned to swallow hogchokers head first! Tom Lake.]

10/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75.5: For Day in the Life of the River, three classes of second and third graders from Poughkeepsie Day School were excited to pull the net for a "sweep" through the water at Waryas Park. Our catch included 47 banded killifish, three tessellated darters, 18 spottail shiners, a striped bass, two pumpkinseed sunfish, and a smallmouth bass. Interestingly, most of the fish were 70 mm in length. But the two most exciting catches were a young-of-the-summer blue crab, less than 20 mm across, and a 180 mm-long American eel.
- Brian Reid, Sue Parise, Lynn Fordin

10/4 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A gentle drizzle portended the coming rains as we hustled to seine a rocky beach. We had two nets going at once with the Orange County Community College students eager to see what was there. Of the 29 fish we caught, spottail shiner dominated, along with tessellated darters, white perch, striped bass (68-71 mm), banded killifish, and a single YOY American shad. Among the half-dozen blue crabs we caught was a soft-shell, 6 inches carapace width. The river was 71 degrees Fahrenheit and the salinity was 1.2 parts per thousand [ppt].
- Tom Lake, Jennifer Merriam, T.R. Jackson

[Blue crabs, as crustaceans, have an exoskeleton and must shed their shell from time to time to accommodate a growing body. The new shell takes one to two days to harden depending upon water temperature - the warmer the water, the quicker it will harden. While the shell is soft a crab is extremely vulnerable to predation, unable to use its crushing claws. Tom Lake.]

10/4 - Cornwall-on-Hudson, HRM 57: Nearly 100 fourth-graders from Willow Avenue School in Cornwall lined the beach in anticipation for Day in the Life as our 85-foot-long seine came ashore vibrating with fish. Two small "shoe-string" eels wiggled their way out of the net and back into the river. Most of the others fish were residents: spottail shiners, white perch, tessellated darters, and banded killifish. While we counted and measured some YOY striped bass (58-65 mm), we also recognized a half-dozen less common fish: smallmouth bass (115-117 mm) and largemouth bass (109-145). The river was 71 degrees F and the salinity was 1.2 ppt.
- Chris O'Sullivan, Tom Lake

10/4 - Piermont, HRM 25: Moisture saturated the early morning air, covering the pier in a ghostly film. Two large great blue herons stood motionless in the water where Sparkill Creek widens into the Hudson, and at the end of the pier a kingfisher was perched on a tall piling surveying the area. The silence was soon broken by three buses of high school students from Clarkstown South, Pearl River, and Tappan Zee descending on the pier for Day in the Life to sample, measure and assess the river and its inhabitants. Our nets caught nearly 200 Atlantic silversides, 15 small striped bass, a dozen white perch, a naked goby, a few small blue crab and many moon jellyfish. The salinity was 7.0 ppt. Monarch butterflies moved quietly by us throughout the day like fall leaves floating on the gentle breeze. We counted more than 15, each traveling solo in its journey to a warmer climate.
- Margie Turrin

[Naked gobies are small estuarine fish, usually less than 75 mm long, occasionally found in shallow, sandy inshore areas of the lower Hudson. They lack scales on their body, hence the common name "naked." Their pectoral fins form a disk on their abdomen; when kept in aquaria, they use this disk to stick themselves to the side of the glass. In the distant past when the river had viable oyster beds, it is likely that the naked goby was more common. Tom Lake.]

10/4 - Manhattan, HRM 2: It was a cloudy day at the Hudson River Park Trust on Pier 45; fog hung over Manhattan for our Day in the Life. It began to rain, really a mist, and the students from P.S. 3 could barely see the New Jersey skyline. The Statue of Liberty was nearly lost to view. We saw a flock of waterfowl flying in a V-formation, except they were barely a foot off the water. We spotted a single monarch butterfly on the pier.
- Shino Tanikawa

[Given the conditions, it was difficult to determine if these were Canada geese, brant, or double-crested cormorants. All migrate in autumn, often in V formations. Brant are small geese closely related to the Canada goose; they migrate to and from the Arctic where they breed. While some cormorants stay in the lower estuary much of the year, many others migrate south. Tom Lake.]

10/4 - Brooklyn, New York City: Many commercial vessels traveled past during our Day in the Life sampling with Waldorf School fifth-graders at the mouth of the East River under the Manhattan Bridge. The salinity read 25.5 ppt in this brackish-water strait connecting Long Island Sound with water rushing in from the Atlantic Ocean. Our Brooklyn Bridge Conservancy net captured three fish: Atlantic silverside, a "snapper" bluefish, and a small white mullet.
- Giannina Zlatar, Kara Gilmour

10/4 - Queens, New York City: Sixty second-graders from the Brooklyn School of Inquiry joined the National Park Service rangers to explore the salt marsh at Gerritsen Creek in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Our Day in the Life nets caught more than 100 Atlantic silversides, 15 striped killifish, a dozen comb jellies, some "ghost" shrimp, and a couple of green crabs. The salinity hovered at 23.0 ppt.
- Sydra Mallery

10/4 - Stony Point, HRM 40: In the early afternoon I became aware of a sudden commotion in my backyard. There were at least 50 - possibly more - clearly very hungry cedar waxwings spread out all over my junipers feeding on the berries. What a display of avian elegance!
- Doris Metraux

10/5 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: On a warm autumn day we visited the bridge at Oscawana Island. As it poured out into the marsh the water from Furnace Brook looked like glass with the reflection of newly colored leaves mirrored on its surface. We spotted an immature double-crested cormorant perched on a deadfall. After a while, it dove into the still water and began swimming away, its wake very pronounced across the water.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

10/5 - Bedford, HRM 35: The biggest push of migrants occurred in the late afternoon. Almost 50 sharp-shinned hawks were seen and the osprey and American kestrel counts to date were doubled (27 osprey; 30 kestrels). It was migrant mayhem. The big surprise of the day: three peregrine falcon sightings. The monarch count was 26.
- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside, Chet Friedman

10/5 - Croton River, HRM 34: Beaver have returned to the Croton River; they offer inspiration and I love them. The last beaver presence was about ten years ago. Those may have been trapped and removed. Beavers are meticulous workers and impeccable engineers that calculate the precise angle a tree will fall, leaving only a gnawed, perfectly shaped, tent point. However, they are now at work on our beautiful sugar maple. Our other trees are wrapped in a stiff plastic sheath to deter the busy lumberjacks and we have wrapped the sugar maple's "wounds" from the beaver's unfinished work with plastic-coated copper wire. So far this seems to be a deterrent to our indefatigable neighbors.
- Sandy Plotkin

10/6 - Bedford, HRM 35: The weather conditions today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch were not optimal for thermals; subsequently the majority of birds counted were seen ridiculously low - several birds, including a merlin, were seen below the observation platform. We counted a mind-boggling 57 osprey with many flying right over the observation platform. Sharp-shinned hawks (92) were also plentiful and now comprise 13 percent of our total raptor count for the season. The monarch count was eight.
- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside

10/6 - Brooklyn, New York City: We watched a black-crowned night heron fish from a rocky edge of the Gowanus Canal this morning directly beneath the Union Street Bridge. We thought for sure we had scared the bird away by shouting "heron!" and "there!" and " see it!" but it just looked up and then right back into the murky green water where schools of small fish were circling. It concentrated on its prey, moving as the schools moved, changing positions after a minute or two; its spindly construction-helmet yellow-colored legs made no sound or wake in the water. At last it speared a killifish with its nearly black bill, swallowed it, and immediately commenced with the next fish hunt.
- Bob Sullivan, Dave Diehl

10/7 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Between dusk and dawn, at various times, we heard our three resident owls calling: screech, barred, and great horned. At 3:00 AM, the local fire station screamed its alarm and the eerily quiet forest came alive. Across a wide swath of woods, coyotes began their yips and howls, lasting for a full five minutes. As they were finally quieting, all of the neighborhood dogs started up - none of us would be getting any sleep anytime soon.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

10/7 - Croton Point, HRM 35: This was a day for the "blues" at Croton Point. On the way out I watched a small flock of bluebirds foraging a brushy fence line; later, a half-dozen small bluefish were in the bag of the seine along with 14 small blue crabs, none larger than quarter-sized.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

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