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Hudson River Almanac October 29 - November 1, 2012

OVERVIEW

Sandy approached the Northeast as a Category One hurricane, but before making landfall it lost the characteristics of a tropical cyclone and took on the structure of a wintertime low-pressure area. According to the National Hurricane Center, "the primary difference between a tropical cyclone and a wintertime cyclone is the energy source. Tropical cyclones extract heat from the ocean and grow by releasing that heat in the atmosphere near the storm center. Wintertime cyclones (also called extratropical or frontal lows), on the other hand, get most of their energy from temperature contrasts in the atmosphere, and this energy usually gets distributed over larger areas. Because of these differences, tropical cyclones tend to have more compact wind fields, tend to be more symmetric, and have a well-defined inner core of strong winds. Wintertime lows have strong temperature contrasts or fronts attached to them, have a broader wind field, and more complex distributions of rain or snow." The Center's forecasts emphasized that the transition would not be accompanied by a weakening of the system, and that in fact strengthening was possible. The transition created a storm with effects beyond what might have been expected of a "mere" hurricane. Warnings of hurricane force winds extended from Virginia to Massachusetts just before Sandy's center came ashore in southern New Jersey, and tropical storm force winds howled over an area nearly 1,000 miles in diameter. As news reports have made clear, Sandy's wind and storm surge, peaking the evening of October 29, had disastrous impacts in the New York City metro area and up the Hudson River estuary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/30 - Port Ewen, HRM 91: I watched a Wilson's storm petrel for nearly an hour from River Road. It only spent about 15 minutes in the air; most of the time it was sitting on the water. If it stayed on the water, I am sure I would have never spotted it. It looked like a small log with a pointy end upriver. When sitting on the water one could see the light markings on the wing, the bill and occasionally the rump.

- Jim Clinton

[Hurricanes, tropical storms, and nor'easters lure birders to region's waterfronts to search for pelagic birds - birds of the open ocean - like the aptly named storm petrels. When a coastal storm follows a track close in to the Eastern seaboard, the counterclockwise circulation around its center results in a powerful easterly and southeasterly wind flow off the ocean as the storm approaches, sweeping pelagic birds into land. Hardy birders are often rewarded with rarely-seen pelagics species as well as fall migrants whose routes south are usually offshore. Steve Stanne]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/29 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: There is an adage about estuaries that no one moment will ever occur exactly the same way again, that every minute of every hour is unique. Thirty years ago today, a moment occurred that, as far as I know, has never been repeated. I was drift fishing in the ebb current of the warm-water outflow from the Danskammer Power Generating Facility when a large school of small herring erupted from the water. Something was chasing them. At almost the same time a dozen foot-long silvery flashes appeared and one hit my lure. The fish was an acrobat, leaping from the water, swapping ends, before splashing back. The hook pulled free but then another one struck. This one leaped boat-side and landed on the gunwale, teetering there for a few seconds before flopping into the boat. The rest of them dispersed, never to be seen again, and I've been looking for years. This was a school of ladyfish (Elops saurus), a tropical relative of the tarpon. Tropical marine strays, aided by the Gulf Stream and warming inshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic, are not uncommon in the Hudson. We fairly regularly see jacks, and on very rare occasions we catch grouper, snapper, bonefish, and small barracuda. Ladyfish, however, have managed to remain a fleeting memory.

- Tom Lake

10/29 - Beacon, HRM 61: The vanguard of Hurricane Sandy's storm surge had arrived. With the aid of a near full moon high tide, Long Dock Park was under water. Soon the river was rocking at the start of the ebb tide against a strong southeast wind. At times like this, the river becomes a carnival ride for fish. In the driving rain we hauled our 85-foot-long seine in the parking lot, with no expectations, but managed to catch two fish: a spottail shiner and a banded killifish. The river, and the parking lot, was at 56 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[When tidal currents and winds move in opposite directions - in this case an ebb current flowing south against a wind blowing from the southeast - friction at the river's surface tends to make waves higher. Steve Stanne.]

10/29 - Manitou, HRM 46.5: Sandy blew in on the Hudson River with extreme tides and lots of wind. Our weather station recorded a 53.4 mph gust. The water level at high tide was the highest we have had in 33 years. The rain amount was only 0.73 inches and the 60-70 mixed finches (goldfinches, pine siskins, and purple finches) and all the other birds were still looking for the bird feeders that I had taken down. I went out twice to spread seed on the slate patio; they were having a hard time flying in but having the seed on the leeward side of the house helped. The female ruby-throated hummingbird that had been here was last seen yesterday.

- Owen Sullivan, Zshawn Sullivan

10/29 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: I was watching the Hudson River around midday and spotted a black scoter and five dunlin; all of these birds were struggling hard to fly up river against the very strong winds.

- Anders Peltomaa

[Scoters - black, surf, and white-winged - are dark heavy-bodied sea ducks, uncommon away from the coast. Steve Stanne.]

10/29 - Jersey City, NJ: While watching the Hudson today, the highlight was seven surf scoters flying north fairly close to the New Jersey side of the river. Various boardwalks along the river on the New Jersey side were already flooded.

- Matt Bango

10/29 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: From the 79th Street Boat Basin this morning we had a few white-winged scoters and a black scoter, likely trying to avoid the storm. A pine siskin was a nice surprise too. Nearly all birds were flying upriver. The water level was high, occasionally spilling over the sea wall.

- Jacob Drucker, Peter Scully

10/29 - Queens, New York City: While 80 mph winds were not uncommon in Manhattan during the height of the storm, a 100 mph gust was measured atop the Robert F. Kennedy Triboro Bridge.

- National Weather Service

10/29 - Manhattan, HRM 0: A record high tide of 13.88 feet was recorded at the Battery; it bested the previous high of 10.02 set in 1960 during Hurricane Donna. The high tide, without the hurricane, was predicted to be only 4.7 feet.

- National Weather Service

[On October 29, Sandy's storm surge peaked almost at the same time that the astronomical high tide occurred, as shown below in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's tide gauge data from the Battery. They combined to cause the record "storm tide," which rolled up the Hudson later that evening and into the wee hours of October 30. Steve Stanne.]

This NOAA graph shows how the tide got stronger with the full moon between October 29 and October 30 during Hurricane Sandy.

10/30 - Saugerties Lighthouse, HRM 102: At 12:40 AM, the river level, still rising quickly, had exceeded that of last year's tropical storm Irene with two hours still to go to high tide. Irene filled the basement of the lighthouse, overtopped the stone base and came within seven inches of the floor joists. Sandy's storm surge crested around 3:00 AM, with six inches of water covering the first floor of the lighthouse. According to my measurement, that was 9 feet 8 inches (9.67 feet) above sea level, or 22 inches higher than Irene.

- Patrick Landewe

10/30 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97.2: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the storm surge was evident, overtopping docks and bulkheads by more than six feet, eroding banks of the river, and depositing debris far inshore. Many houses near the river experienced flooding of several feet from the unusual high tide.

- Peg Duke

10/30 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: I went to the waterfront at 2:30 AM, just after high tide, to look at the extent of the historic flooding from Hurricane Sandy. The river was eerily calm at Waryas Park; a moderate but comfortable breeze blew and the full Hunter's Moon promisingly shone through parting clouds. But the river had risen to engulf the park as far as the toe of the upland slope, leaving the Ice House, recently reopened as a restaurant, as an island in the river. I revisited the waterfront shortly after dawn and found that although the water had receded, low tide appeared as a normal high tide. At the Ice House, which had been boarded up and sandbagged in advance of the storm, workers began removing plywood and cleaning up eager to reopen. I returned to the Ice House at the next high tide (1:30 PM) to find the river up around the building once again. Mother Nature can be relentless.

- Jeff Anzevino

[Native Americans (in our area, Algonquian speakers) designated "months" of what they perceived as the year, with names that corresponded with natural occurrences. The Hunter's Moon was the first full moon after the Harvest Moon, which was the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. Late fall was the time when white-tailed deer would be most active. Tom Lake.]

10/30 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: At midnight, the full moon tide was nearing high and, along with the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy pushed inland by offshore winds, was combining to overflow the flood plain. As I watched the water creep higher and higher I thought of the word "inexorable." The black river, with wind gusts 40-50 mph, was punctuated by whitecaps and rollers. The energy coming off the water was almost palpable. Overhead there were breaks in the cloud cover revealing star-shine and wisps of clouds racing across the sky, pushed by a strong east wind.

- Tom Lake

10/30 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The counter-clockwise flow of Hurricane Sandy brought very strong winds out of the east. But the birds were back in the air. It was interesting to watch several turkey vultures, with the brisk tailwind, flying like falcons. For us, Sandy ended up being much more wind than rain (0.74").

- Tom Lake

10/30 - Cornwall-on-Hudson, HRM 57: I was able to get out today and bird the Hudson River between Newburgh and Cornwall. In mid-afternoon I spotted four common loons in a group, ten surf scoters, and one shearwater (too far out in the river - the rain made it impossible to identify - painful!). In addition there were several flocks of brant flying, an immature bald eagle, and two peregrine falcons, one of which appeared to be eating on the wing, something I did not think was possible for them.

- Curt McDermott

10/30 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: We ventured out for the first time after the hurricane and arrived at Steamboat Dock area in late afternoon. The sky was dark and cloudy, the wind was still whipping off the water, and the river was an angry gray with whitecaps that turned into large waves that crashed over the dock. We were surprised to see that the force of the water during the storm had overturned the newly-installed granite Veterans Memorial monument. The high tide line was littered with all kinds of debris that extended way up onto the grass almost to the street. We spotted a single cormorant flying low over the water and several ring-billed gulls, but not much else in the way of wildlife.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

10/30 - Westchester County, HRM 40-33: I woke up thinking about the white-tailed tropicbird that I was sure to see along the Hudson as Hurricane Sandy pulled away from us. Disaster was everywhere: dozens of utility lines and poles were down as well as hundreds of trees, and police tape blocked most access to the river. At Verplanck, Steamboat Dock was completely under water. At the Croton River, the train station parking lot was 90 percent flooded and the piles of tide-swept debris along the fences suggested a surge of at least six vertical feet. I had not seen the parking lots so empty since (the memory inescapable) September 12, 2001. Where was that tropicbird? The best I could do was fish crows. The Ossining waterfront was a depressing mess - the marinas and boat clubs had taken heavy hits. I was told by a birder, who had also seen no tropicbirds but did score a Bonaparte's gull, that there was a boat parked on the railroad tracks. At one boatyard, a 36-foot-long cruiser, the Lucky Lou, was having a bad day lying on her side in a tangle of beached moorings, floats and finger piers. Home again without a tropicbird, but giving thanks that my storm damage was limited to leaves and branches.

- Christopher Letts

10/30 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: In early afternoon I spotted a flock of about fifty brant flying down the middle of the Hudson.

- Bob Lewis

10/30 - Manhattan, HRM 11: We spent the last two days scanning the Hudson River for storm birds. The highlights among our sightings included common loons, red-throated loons, white-winged scoters, black scoters, two parasitic jaegers, one red phalarope, a Forster's tern, three royal terns and seven Bonaparte's gulls. A small flock of four or five ring-billed gulls mobbed one of the parasitic jaegers and forced it to land on the water where it remained, bobbing in the chop. The red phalarope was spotted beelining down the middle of the Hudson, out-running a Liberty Line ferry, making its way back to New York Harbor.

- Nadir Souirgi, James Knox

[Related to gulls and terns, jaegers are predators and pirates - swift and powerful in flight - given to plundering food from their smaller relatives. In fall they migrate south over offshore waters. Steve Stanne.]

10/30 - Manhattan, HRM 5: As many as fifteen or more birders spent part or most of the day on the upper west side of Manhattan on the Hudson River. The highlight was an American oystercatcher flying down river, possibly a first for New York County. There were also a number of Forster's terns, a pomarine jaeger and two parasitic jaegers, and a herring gull capturing a Leach's storm petrel and flying off with it.

- Peter Post

10/30 - Upper Bay, New York Harbor: I counted three pomarine jaegers and a minimum of eleven parasitic jaegers (eleven were seen at once) in the Upper Bay. There were also two Wilson's storm petrels, while two Leach's storm petrels were reported from the Brooklyn side of the harbor.

- Isaac Grant

10/31 - Hyde Park, HRM 78: All Hallows Eve. For many fans of the season, Halloween is a time to dress up scary and go in search of tricks-or-treats. I have my own Hudson Valley Halloween tradition: I visit the grave of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit theologian, paleontologist, and renowned naturalist who died in 1955 and is buried on the grounds of the Culinary Institute (formerly the St. Andrew-on-Hudson Jesuit novitiate). It was a dark, somber day, appropriate for the moment, but the even light made the cemetery's Japanese red maples radiate brilliant red and orange. Amidst a hundred or more identical gravestones, de Chardin's is easy to find. There is always a collection of items - fossils, shells, and other tokens of natural history - left by those paying homage. It is also the only grave site bracketed by peonies. I left a black stone pebble of Normanskill chert from which a Hudson Valley native Algonquian might have fashioned an arrowhead 500 years ago. Teilhard de Chardin spent much of his life searching for common ground between Christian dogma and natural history, reconciling his faith with modern science. That made him a truly unique individual in his time.

- Tom Lake

[This Halloween tradition is a low-profile, unofficial version of such better known examples as roses and cognac to Edgar Allan Poe's crypt in Baltimore, or flowers and poetry to Jim Morrison's grave in Paris. In the instance of de Chardin, it is very simply means of remembering and appreciating a kindred soul. Tom Lake.]

10/31 - Fishkill, HRM 61: With this year's abundant black walnut crop, there has been a new denizen in my yard in recent days: a small red squirrel that is fierce, fast and feisty. He intimidates all the gray squirrels that dare intrude on his space.

- Ed Spaeth

11/1 - Beacon, HRM 61: A large flock of Canada geese (maybe 65 birds) had come down along the upland edge of Long Dock Park. These were likely high-flyers that had landed for a break in their travels. On the periphery of the geese was a small group of smaller geese, a dozen brant. All were foraging in the grass.

- Tom Lake

11/1 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had another golden eagle at the Chestnut Ridge hawk-watch! The bird (an immature) showed up out of the east with two local adult red-tailed hawks in hot pursuit; they stooped on the eagle until it was almost out of sight to the southwest.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Adam Zorn, Angela Woodside, Chet Friedman

11/1 - Manhattan, HRM 5: Thanks to Dale Dancis and Lynne Hertzog, I was alerted to the presence of northern gannets on the Hudson River. In mid-afternoon they were continually in view from the end of the 70th Street Pier at Riverside Park. The birds were flying around, plunge-diving, and sitting on the water. I had three adults in view at the same time and one first-year bird. Also seen was a lesser black-backed gull and a couple of Forster's terns.

- Peter Post

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