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Hudson River Almanac October 15 - October 21, 2012

OVERVIEW

As autumn progressed through the last flares of vivid foliage, a sign of the season to come appeared - winter finches including pine siskins and even a red crossbill. The river cools more slowly than the air overhead, so this year's crop of young fish and a few of the less common species from saltier and warmer waters to the south were still showing up in seine hauls.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: On the few occasions that the sun came out this week, it has been lovely in the woods. Although the hardwood overstory trees have shed their leaves, the beech leaves in the understory have been a stunning combination of yellow and chartreuse. When the sun hits the leaves, the forest simply glows along with the bogs, beaver ponds and wetlands that are ringed in gold from the needles of the tamarack trees. As the poet Alexander Solzhenitsyn described the larch, "How suddenly her needles shower down - in festive, glinting sparks of sunlight." The dark damp days just seemed to accentuate the color of the tamaracks.

- Charlotte Demers

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/15 - Bedford, HRM 35: The majority of raptors counted today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch were sharp-shinned hawks. American kestrels were also present in good numbers; some of these tenacious birds were seen flying into a headwind. A merlin appeared out of thin air, as they always do, which was a nice surprise for the hawk-watchers.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside

10/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Osprey were hooking fish, perhaps small menhaden, out of Croton Bay and repairing to feeding roosts on the south side of the Croton River. We watched three make the trip over a space of ten minutes. Then an immature bald eagle came in and rousted the osprey from their perches. The osprey all took off to the south - complaining loudly "cheep cheep cheep" - with the eagle in hot pursuit. Less than ten minutes later the immature eagle came back along the same route with two ravens flying unfriendly consort. We see the same behavior along the Palisades in Bergen County where ravens and eagles are relatively new additions to the avifauna. Fifteen years ago osprey caught fish, found a piling head, and "bon appetit." Not any more.

- Christopher Letts

10/15 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: There were several osprey fishing over the river off Bloomers Beach, along with migrating flickers, winter wrens, and a steady stream of turkey vultures angling south along the Palisades cliffs. There has been a jumbo crop of shore shrimp this year (Palaemonetes spp.). Spot, winter flounder, and silver perch continue to show up in the net along with myriad young-of-the-summer blue crabs.

- Christopher Letts

10/16 - Bedford, HRM 35: Today was another big day at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch for sharp-shinned hawks (143). They now comprise 16 percent of the total sightings for the season. Many of the migrating raptors flew right over the hawk-watchers' heads, offering some really great looks at red-shouldered hawks and merlin in particular.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside, Chet Friedman

10/16 - Palisades, HRM 23: A single, fairly large bat flew by my office window at dusk. I was happy to see it as bat sightings have become quite rare around here. However, I wondered if it was normal for it to be out on a cool autumn evening.

- Linda Pistolesi

[Bats will be out as long as they are healthy and there are insects to be taken. However, identifying bats on the wing can be difficult unless seen up close; associated habitat helps. We have several species in our area, including big brown and little brown bats, Indiana, eastern red, and hoary bats. While they are all quite small, ones that might be considered large include the eastern red and hoary bats with total length nearing five inches. Tom Lake.]

10/17 - Eddyville, HRM 92: The tide was past high and the ebb was just beginning to creep downstream. "Deep water" never seems to be a prime time for fish or their predators so I was both surprised and excited when an adult bald eagle came out of the trees and snatched a two-pound gizzard shad off the water near the far shore. In a very efficient manner, he was back on a limb in ten seconds and having his meal.

- Tom Lake

An adult gizzard shad lying over a net

[Every time I see eagles eat gizzard shad it reinforces my contention that eagles do not have a well refined sense of taste. I have eaten smoked gizzard shad, so I speak from experience. Gizzard shad are not thought to be native to the Hudson. They may have been introduced in the last half of the twentieth-century, either by immigration through the New York State canal system from the Midwest (where they are native) or by moving inland from coastal waters. J.R. Greeley, of the New York State Conservation Department, did not find them in the estuary during his 1937 biological survey. Tom Lake. Gizzard shad photo by Steve Stanne.]

10/17 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: We have nurtured several fig trees for years in Furnace Woods, but rarely could pick ripened figs. This year we counted more than 100 fruits on the eight-foot-tall plant. For whatever reasons - long hot summers, warmer than usual fall temperatures - we have enjoyed a harvest, bringing several dozen brown turkey figs into the kitchen to be gloated over, and then enjoyed.

- Christopher Letts

10/17 - Bedford, HRM 35: Our third northern goshawk of the season went right over the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch platform today. We also spotted an eastern red bat, a red crossbill, and 113 pine siskins.

- Tait Johansson, Angela Woodside, Chet Friedman

10/17 - Palisades, HRM 23: Leaving work this evening I saw another large bat (adding to the one seen yesterday) and heard a distant screech owl repeatedly whinnying.

- Linda Pistolesi

10/17 - Westchester County, HRM 23: While riding on the morning commuter train this time of the year, the sun lights up the western bank of the Hudson before its rays reach the river itself, leaving the Palisades and all the rich fall colors highlighted in the golden glow of early morning. As Albert Camus wrote, "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." It is truly beautiful, though often overlooked by the harried commuters hustling in to another busy day.

- Hugh McLean

10/18 - Lake Luzerne, HRM 206: While enjoying a nice variety of birds foraging at my feeder this morning, as well as a male and female hairy woodpecker moving from tree to tree, a bald eagle flew within thirty feet of my porch directly along the shore of the upper Hudson. I had never been that close to a bald eagle. What a majestic bird.

- Mike Meyer

10/18 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: Raptor watching from sea level in the Hudson Highlands can be difficult. Nearly always the migrating birds are too far above you to identify. Yet, for a half hour we stood on the village dock and watched a variety of birds, mostly turkey vultures with a few black vultures, drifting past. We also saw several hawks in a hurry, far overhead and identifiable by flight and form only to family (accipiter) - either Cooper's or sharp-shinned hawks.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

10/18 - Bedford, HRM 35: There was a good flight in the morning at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch with a fair number of red-shouldered hawks on the move (12). Sharp-shinned hawks were seen flying throughout the day; these birds really got tossed around in the wind.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Jack Kozuchowski, Jim Jones

10/19 - Beacon, HRM 61: We hauled our seine in a cold, driving rain at Long Dock; a strong southeast wind had created a wild and raucous surf. We beached the net with some difficulty under a large hackberry tree that offered no respite from the rain. Our spirits were warmed, however, by the huge catch that included young-of-the-year striped bass 59-61 millimeters [mm] long, blueback herring (60-69 mm), most likely of Mohawk River origin, and alewives (80-88 mm) that seemed out of place this late in the season. Ordinarily alewives have left the river for the sea by now. Water temperature had dropped to 64 degrees Fahrenheit, salinity was less than 2.0 parts per thousand, and the rainfall total, by day's end, was 1.6 inches.

- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/19 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: The chilly, blustery weather earlier this week in Furnace Woods brought a new torrent of songbirds. Today I peered out through the rain to see a sizable flock of juncos and white-throated sparrows foraging on the lawn, the first of the season here.

- Christopher Letts

10/19 - Sterling Forest, HRM 40: We set up our bird feeding stations five days ago and it took a while for the local birds to discover them. Two days ago a flock of winter migrants came in: purple finches, pine siskins, and goldfinches. We take our feeders in every night to ward off the local bear (mother and three cubs), raccoons, and opossum. Yesterday, I put the feeders out and soon they were covered with pine siskins. There were so many siskins that we couldn't count them all (we estimated at least 40).They fed frantically all day, even overwhelming the squirrels and blue jays at times. Today, the big flock of siskins had flown with only 15 still hanging around.

- Mary Yrizarry

10/20 - Hillsdale, HRM 119: We walked up our driveway this evening and noticed a large black caterpillar walking across the blacktop. Closer inspection showed that it had a red head and small yellow spots. This was one of the "naked" caterpillars, no spiny setae, and it had a "horn" on the rear end. We never saw one of these before so we looked it up - it was a bedstraw sphinx moth caterpillar. We probably grow a few tons of bedstraw in our yard each year, so its presence was reasonable; we read that the caterpillar is nocturnal so it makes sense that we never noticed them before.

- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

10/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was nearing dusk when, as is almost always the case, we heard them approaching from upriver before we saw them. These were honking "high-flyers," Canada geese, in a huge and sloppy V formation, more like a check-mark in the sky. A few minutes later a small stream of black vultures followed the same route at a considerably lower altitude.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[We call them high-flyers because that is, indeed, what they do. Skeins of migrating geese, Canada and snow, miles high, strung out in Vs and large check-marks, always in flux, birds constantly changing their position in the geometrics of the sky. It always reminds me of volleyball team members switching positions after every point. A brisk north breeze was pushing these flocks south allowing the geese to save on fuel. Tom Lake.]

10/20 - Bedford, HRM 35: Although the number of birds counted at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today was not enormous, the hawk-watchers were treated to some amazing looks as well as some amazing birds. The second bird of the day was an immature northern goshawk that came in very close to the platform. Later, an adult northern goshawk flew right over the Hawkwatch. The counters were struck speechless. The most numerous migrants counted were black vultures (kettle of 13), turkey vultures (21), and sharp-shinned hawks (18).

- Genevieve Rozhon, Woodside, Donna Resnick, Jim Jones

10/21 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: It was a beautiful dawn in this shaded tidal tributary. The tide was just turning to ebb as two dozen mallards came in for a landing. As they settled and began to dabble, I noticed a hen red-breasted merganser swimming on the periphery. It had been there already, but was hidden in the shadows. This was an interesting sighting since these diving ducks are generally much more common in coastal areas.

- Tom Lake

10/21 - Bedford, HRM 35: Most of the raptors seen today were sharp-shinned hawks (76). Broad-winged and sharp-shinned hawks now collectively comprise 75 percent of the total raptor sightings this fall. We also counted five eastern red bats.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Angela Woodside, Chet Friedman, Derek Lovitch

10/21 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: The tide was fully ebbed in the bay, several large sandbars were exposed, and two immature bald eagles were strutting around on one of them. In the shallows of mid-bay a dozen ring-billed gulls were hovering on furiously flapping wings over a "disturbed" patch of water. The odds were good that bluefish were marauding menhaden and the gulls were waiting to clean up the leftovers.

- Tom Lake

10/21 - Inbuckie, HRM 33.5: The tide was nearing full in late afternoon and twenty gorgeous black ducks were doing their best to keep their mini-raft together in the face of a stiff breeze. Overhead an immature and an adult bald eagle, caught in the wind, were making long arcs in the sky without a single wing beat.

- Tom Lake

[Inbuckie is a colloquial name used to describe the half-mile of tidemarsh inside the railroad tracks, extending south from the mouth of the Croton River. The origin of the name is hazy but has been commonly used by local rivermen for well over a century. Tom Lake.]

10/21 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: Visit the HRECOS web camera at www.hrecos.org. The HRECOS station on the Marist College campus includes a web camera aimed at the Walkway over the Hudson. This image is updated once every hour (refresh your browser to view the most recent image). In addition to the web camera, this is the only HRECOS station that is able to collect water samples for later analysis. Water is pumped from the mid channel when another parameter, such as turbidity, spikes to an unusually high level.

- Alene Onion

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