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Hudson River Almanac November 10 - November 16, 2012

OVERVIEW

While fall migration continued in the air and in the river, there were reports of what seems to be an annual reluctance of several rufous hummingbirds to join the flow. Flocks of winter finches were finding feeders and the nighttime woods were beginning to play their winter tunes.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/13 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: Living in the woods is never dull. I've had to explain to house guests that the screams they hear during the night were not someone being murdered, but a vixen (fox) looking for her mate. The local owls are always entertaining: the booming of the great horned, the barred owl's "Who cooks for you?," an occasional whinny or ghostly tremolo from the eastern screech owl, and very rarely, the "tooting" from a migrating northern saw-whet owl. I heard a loud cacophony this evening of psychotic monkey-babble that actually had me scared. I had visions of the Flying Monkeys from the Wizards of Oz carrying off my little dog. But no, it was just my neighborhood barred owls having a conversation in front of the barn in Ludlow Woods.

- Deb Tracy-Kral

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/10 - Bedford, HRM 35: This was the strangest hawk-watching day we've experienced all season at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch: Almost no raptors were flying. We did have one early morning migrating red-tailed hawk, one juvenile red-shouldered hawk, and one American kestrel. We also counted a large flock (110 birds) of American robins.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Jack Kozuchowski

11/10 - Croton River, HRM 34: The permanent guard-duty common loon was on station this morning riding about 50 feet off the boat launch near the mouth of Croton Bay. A handsome bird in winter plumage, it is typically curious and trusting and not put off at all by human presence. However, it does not like cormorants. I watched as one approached the loon's "station." It was attacked vigorously, the loon rearing up in the water, flapping its wings, and lunging with that wicked three-inch "spear" of a bill. The cormorant was not leaving fast enough; the loon dove and the cormorant shot out of the water, taking flight. Had I witnessed an underwater attack? It seemed likely.

- Christopher Letts

11/11 - Fishkill, HRM 61: More than 100 geese, nearly exceeding capacity, were crowded into a small pond in the Fishkill Rural Cemetery. Ninety-nine were Canada geese and one was a snow goose. We see this occasionally during fall migration where a snow goose will lose touch with its flock and hitch a ride with relatives.

- Tom Lake

11/11 - Bedford, HRM 35: This was a better day at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. Most of the birds were spotted in the wake of southeast winds drawing birds from the east, over our platform, and then out to the west. I had amazing looks at red-shouldered hawks and a northern goshawk. Red-shouldered hawks (7) were really moving today.

- Genevieve Rozhon

11/11 - Croton Point, HRM 34: With seining season drawing to an end - most fish will be moving offshore into deeper water as the river cools - we took the opportunity to sample Mother's Lap. Despite the drenching effects of Hurricane Sandy and a snowstorm over the last ten days, the salinity was a surprisingly high 7.5 parts per thousand. It seemed likely that the storm surges associated with those events had pushed saltier water upstream. Our catch was meager but illuminating: brackish water Atlantic silversides 40-42 millimeters [mm] long, freshwater bluegills (38-40 mm), and migrating young-of-the-year striped bass (84-87 mm). The water temperature had fallen to 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Mother's Lap is a colloquial name for a small, sheltered cove on the northwest end of Croton Point. When commercial fishing was in its heyday in the mid-twentieth century, fishermen knew they could find refuge from wind and tide in this little bay as their nets worked offshore. In that regard, it reminded them of the calm and solace of sitting in "mother's lap." Tom Lake.]

[Storm surge was perhaps a factor accounting for the observed salinity at Mother's Lap. The graph below from the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System's Piermont Pier station shows sharply higher and increasing salinity peaks with each high tide in the days before Sandy hit - early evidence of the cyclone's influence. (At its peak on 10/29, the storm surge swept the Piermont instruments away.) However, nearly two weeks after the storm, it's more likely that the relatively small amount of rainfall associated with Sandy in the Hudson's watershed - and the lack of major rainstorms since - has limited freshwater runoff to the estuary and kept salinities fairly high in the Hudson's lower reaches. Steve Stanne.]

A chart showing high salinity levels in the Hudson River at Piermont Pier during and after Hurricane Sandy

11/11 - Manhattan, HRM 11: This afternoon there was a hummingbird of the genus Selasphorus in the Heather Gardens at Fort Tryon, Washington Heights. It wasn't flying much, mostly stayed perched high up in a tree. Based on what I could see of the bird, from the amount of green on its back, I'd guess that it was an immature male rufous hummingbird.

- Sam Stuart


11/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: We drove past a field and in my side vision I caught sight of two smallish animals standing in the grass. We turned around and went back. It was two coyotes moving nimbly through the foot-high grass, intent on the ground, looking and listening for small rodents.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

11/12 - Crugers, HRM 39: We have had a peanut feeder in our yard for several years and have attracted red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, as well as blue jays and other varieties of birds. When we looked out our window this morning, we were surprised to see a different woodpecker, somewhat larger than a downy with white bars on its wings, a yellowish belly and a red head and chin-strap: a male yellow-bellied sapsucker. We'd never had one here before and we thought they mostly frequented wooded areas. Between pecks at the peanuts it hung motionless on the feeder, as if claiming its territory.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

11/12 - Bedford, HRM 35: The few raptors that were on the move today included one immature northern harrier, three sharp-shinned hawks, and one red-tailed hawk. We also saw an amazingly huge flock of American robins, at least 1,000 birds.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Chet Friedman

11/13 - Olivebridge, HRM 92: We have endured an infestation of stink bugs since the end of summer. When touched they emit an odor which is almost repulsive to some and unpleasant to most. We were told that they do have natural predators but until this morning we had not seen any evidence of predation. Today we watched tufted titmice, nuthatches, juncos and sparrows and were delighted to see that they all seemed to love the taste of the stink bugs that populated the walls and deck. We tested our theory by capturing a stink bug and placing it on the deck. Within a minute two nuthatches and a titmouse flew in for the feast. The titmouse won the prize.

- Joyce Baron

[The brown marmorated stink bug has made quite an impression in many areas of the Mid-Hudson Valley in the last couple of years, invading homes, businesses, schools, garages, and automobiles - often in overwhelming numbers. Also called shield bugs, they are invasive insects native to Asia and introduced in the northeast in the 1990s. They are considered agricultural pests since in large numbers they can suck plant juices and damage crop production. Tom Lake.]

11/13 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While we watched from the Rail Trail trestle bridge over the Wallkill River, an adult bald eagle gently made its way down the channel, passing so close that we spotted what looked to us like a little black box with a small radio antenna on its back. Could this individual be part of a study of bald eagle migratory behavior?

- Jason Clark

[We asked Pete Nye about current radio-tagging of bald eagles. As far as he knows, no one around us - Hudson Valley, southeast New York - is doing radio telemetry. The closest location is Chesapeake Bay. The DEC Endangered Species Unit conducted radio-tagging on a very limited number of bald eagles in the 1990s in order to ascertain their breeding range and wintering locations. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that this adult bald eagle was a participant in that program. Bald eagles can live 25-30 years in the wild. Tom Lake.]

11/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: A small, spring-fed brook runs down to the fall line at the south end of Bowdoin Park. In prehistoric times it likely had a small fish run of white suckers, white perch, yellow perch, even river herring. Today it meets the river in a tidal backwater, a sediment trap formed inside the railroad tracks. We were taking a walk at midday and the high tide did not hold much promise for dabbling ducks so we were surprised to come upon a single drake (male) wood duck. It was no more than 150 feet away and so gorgeous that we held our breath willing it to stay.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

11/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: We received 0.8" of precipitation from the latest storm and lost power overnight. This afternoon however, the sky cleared and the clouds parted just enough so that we could see a long skein of high-flyers, Canada geese a mile high, heading straight down the river.

- Tom Lake

11/13 - Palisades, HRM 23: A short afternoon walk around the grounds of Lamont-Doherty turned up a winter wren that quickly disappeared behind a fallen tree.

- Linda Pistolesi

11/14 - Hammond's Point, HRM 60: As our Metro North train sped past the Fishkill Creek delta I spotted an adult bald eagle perched in a now leafless cottonwood. This is a prime winter perch for eagles surveying the cove at Denning's Point and the outflow of Fishkill Creek. This was probably the first of our wintering eagles.

- Tom Lake

[Hammond's Point is modest protrusion from the shoreline just below Fishkill Creek recognizable by its line of towering hardwoods. By the first week of January, there may be 100 wintering bald eagles along the estuary from the Capitol District south to Manhattan. Tom Lake.]

11/14 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a pretty quiet day up at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch in terms of raptor activity. There was a bit of a mid-morning flight involving a few red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, and another northern goshawk (the season total now up to nine).

- Genevieve Rozhon, Arthur Green

11/14 - Croton Bay, HRM 33.5: The strong current from the rising tide was converging with a heavy wind to create three-foot swells out in the channel. But the near-shore shallows on the east side of Croton Bay, in the lee of Croton Point, were calm. At low tide the assemblage of black ducks, in small numbers, extended for a quarter mile. Collectively there must have been a hundred ducks dabbling along the sandy bottom. I paused to remember how 25-30 years ago we rarely saw black ducks on the Hudson; their numbers had diminished from habitat loss. Restoration efforts, not the least of which was protecting their nesting habitat, had seemingly paid off. Passing the mouth of the Croton River I noticed a pair of flashy male hooded mergansers.

- Tom Lake

11/14 - Manhattan, HRM 5.5: I found a selasphorous-type hummingbird, probably a rufous hummingbird, in the North Garden of Central Park's Conservatory Gardens. I was able to watch the bird for several minutes while it perched in a sparsely foliated shrub. It then flew off and proceeded to feed from the many flowers still in bloom in the North Garden.

- Nadir Souirgi

11/15 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Moving as though we were phantoms, with stealth only possible with quiet boots and wet leaves, we paused within a few hundred feet of a tall tuliptree with an eagle nest (NY62). Mama (N42) was there. This was far too early for winter housekeeping so she may have been just been enjoying the familiarity of home. To think we were somehow invisible to her was silly. She pivoted her head without moving her body and locked eyes with us - those piercing yellow eyes. After monitoring her for twelve years, I sometimes delude myself that she might recognize us. After a few minutes of stare-down, she gently lifted off, those incredible broad wings slowly flapping down a roadway under a canopy of hardwoods, across an open field, over a small forest well known for its family of coyotes, and finally to the river.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

11/15 - West Point, HRM 51: I watched five brant this afternoon feeding near a tide-flooded drainage ditch at West Point's South Dock. This was noteworthy only because it's the first time I've seen them on the athletic fields feeding on the grass. While they are a common site in spring and fall flying far overhead in waves, I have not seen them stop at this particular place. They were feeding near a group of Canada geese that would chase the brant back if they got too close.

- Doug Gallagher

11/16 - Lake Hill, HRM 100: I watched an older fawn (no spots) in my backyard nursing on a doe. Suddenly, a four-point buck came out of the woods and chased the fawn away. He then began to chase the doe. They ran into the woods and I lost sight of them. A short while later, the doe was back, this time with two fawns and they all began grazing on the lawn. Once again, the buck came out of the woods and chased the fawns away before turning his attention to the doe. At first, she tried to elude him, but then she gave up and allowed the buck to mate with her. When it ended, all of the deer went off into the woods but returned a half hour later to continue grazing. The whole time I was watching it felt a little voyeuristic, but it was fascinating to see.

- Reba Wynn Laks

11/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: Although few people seemed to notice, the sound was deafening as students and faculty exited Hudson Hall on the campus of Dutchess Community College. The familiar sound was coming from the trees several hundred yards away along the Fall Kill. This was a new night roost for crows. Hundreds of them were lined up along the limbs and teetering on tree-tops, all vying for a prime spot.

- Tom Lake

[This was a communal night roost. From late November through much of the winter, great numbers of crows, beginning in the hundreds, often growing to the thousands, collect each late afternoon. While this behavior has its obvious benefits as a winter roost, it may serve several social functions as well. Tom Lake.]

11/16 - Bedford. HRM 35: Although it was not a huge day for migrants, the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch counters were treated to some nice looks at birds. In particular, an immature northern goshawk that first appeared to the east then hung around long enough for the counters and a visitor to admire its beautiful plumage.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Arthur Green

11/16 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: This was my first time visiting Inwood after Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent nor'easter. I was particularly struck by the number of blowdowns. Most were toward the eastern slopes, and many were big, old trees. The paths were clear; the crews had done much work but the loss, added to the damage from last year's windstorms, was sad. Wildlife was sparse: several robins (looking well fed), half a dozen mallards in the cove at the north end, and one flash of white, likely a downy woodpecker. Blowdowns are a natural part of the history of a forest. At least the policy here is to leave fallen trees to rot (the paths are cleared, but the wood isn't carted away), which is good for the health of the woods. Still, the loss of so many trees at once is sad.

- Thomas Shoesmith

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