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Hudson River Almanac November 17 - November 23, 2012

OVERVIEW

The effects of Hurricane Sandy are still being tabulated in terms of economic costs and overall environmental impact. This week, however, brought a surprising find for which Sandy might have been partially responsible: a saltwater fish was recovered in freshwater far inland. Autumn migration in the air and in the water has slowed, but winter ducks and winter finches continue to trickle into our watershed.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/19 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Laurie Seeman found something extraordinary on the beach at the Norrie Point Environmental Center: an eleven-inch-long dead oyster toadfish. This gorgeous beast was miles from saltwater, yet seemed recently dead based on the condition of its fins, lack of smell, and presence of blood in its gills. As we examined it, we found several two-inch-long pale yellow parasitic worms, still alive and slowly squirming. A quick dissection revealed a dozen more worms, and a completely empty stomach and digestive tract. Perhaps this saltwater fish had ridden Sandy's storm surge up river into freshwater - not its usual comfort zone - unable to find food, and weakened by parasites.
- Chris Bowser

A dead oyster toadfish (a salt water species) washed up at Norrie Point Environmental Center in Staatsburg, NY (in fresh water)

[Oyster toadfish, known colloquially as "oyster crackers," are common along the Atlantic Coast as well as in New York Harbor and up the Hudson along Manhattan's West Side. They have strong, sharp teeth used to crush shellfish. While not the most handsome of fishes, they do have undeniable charm. Nevertheless, some rivermen have been known to refer to them, uncharitably, as the "mother-in-law fish." Most often found in salt or brackish water, they can tolerate low salinity and even fresh water for a short time. Archaeologists have found bones of oyster toadfish dating back 4,000 years in Westchester County (HRM 40) - the river there was saltier then and supported a robust oyster population - but this may be a modern-day upriver record for the species. It's possible that the fish was caught by an angler in salt water and discarded upriver, but the circumstances suggest that it made the trip on its own, with some help from Sandy's incredible storm surge. While one might envision this fish surging upriver like a surfer on a tidal wave, it is hard to imagine such a sluggish bottom dweller hitching a ride on anything short of a moon rocket. Tom Lake.]

[Based on experience modeling the hydrodynamics of the Hudson estuary, Nickitas Georgas, Senior Research Engineer at the Stevens Institute for Technology's Center for Maritime Systems/Davidson Laboratory, estimates that Sandy's peak surge overnight on 10/29 increased the incoming flood current two or three fold. This potentially could have pushed water from Manhattan as far as 60 kilometers (about 37 miles) upriver during that part of tide cycle - not enough boost to get a toadfish all the way to Norrie, even assuming that it started from the northern limit of its typical haunts. Nickitas notes that the surge did not bring a measurable increase in salinity to Poughkeepsie, some 10 miles south of Norrie. He also points out that - after riding the surge north - the fish would then have had to hunker down while the extra volume of water pushed upriver was flushed downstream in strong ebb currents over the next two tidal cycles. So while it's possible that this toadfish hitched a ride partway on Sandy's surge, other factors must have been at work, perhaps including the sometimes idiosyncratic behavior of individual animals. Steve Stanne.]


NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The winter finches have arrived at the bird feeders - evening grosbeaks, common redpolls, and pine siskins. In the crab apple trees there were both Bohemian and cedar waxwings along with a pine grosbeak. The most unusual bird was a single immature Harris' sparrow feeding with the dark-eyed juncos on the ground below the feeder. This is only the second record of a Harris' sparrow in Essex County, the previous being in Saranac Lake in 1980. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site, this bird is "rarely found far east or west of the middle of North America. It breeds along the edge of boreal forest and tundra in north-central Canada, and spends the winter in the very central region of the United States."
- Charlotte Demers

11/17 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: At first light, 50 Canada geese had dropped down from their high-flyer migration into Wappinger Creek. A short distance upstream, another 50 had landed, "maxing" out that reach of tidewater. Overhead, another smaller flock was making a pass. It reminded me of winter scenes in the DelMarVa Peninsula where cornfield capacity is exceeded and flocks of wintering Canada and snow geese have to circle in holding patterns until space frees up.
- Tom Lake

[DelMarVa is the acronym for the Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia peninsula, a contiguous coastal area and a magnet for wintering waterfowl. Tom Lake.]

11/18 - Great Barrington, Massachusetts: Occasionally we step outside the Hudson River watershed to make note of an exceptional sighting in an adjacent area. An Allen's hummingbird (young-of-the-year, or "hatch year") has been coming to a feeder here for a couple of weeks.
- Deb Tracy-Kral

[Western species of hummingbird, such as the Allen's, are considered rare east of the Rocky Mountains. So why are western hummingbirds around in autumn? Michael Bochnik has commented that it may be a combination of feeders left up after our ruby-throated hummingbirds have left and an expansion of West Coast birds wintering in the southeastern U.S. The most regular western visitor is the rufous, but we have also seen a calliope hummingbird. Tom Lake.]

11/18 - Wappinger Lake, HRM 67.5: This impoundment is a dammed-up stretch of Wappinger Creek, just above the Village of Wappinger Falls. The creek flows freely both above and below, ultimately into a tidewater reach to the Hudson. There was a time, decades ago, then this man-made lake produced excellent sport fishing and even ice fishing. However, many years of sediment deposition from upstream and the annual growth of Eurasian water chestnut have limited this very shallow lake to being a way-station for migratory waterfowl. Today, in addition to several dozen mallards, I counted four hooded mergansers, six ring-necked ducks, a pied-billed grebe, and a small raft of black ducks.
- Tom Lake

11/19 - Bedford, HRM 35: This morning at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch started off with a bang. The first migrant of the day was an immature golden eagle. The bird appeared off to the east, rose up on a thermal, and then proceeded to fly southeast. We also counted a beautiful adult Cooper's hawk (most likely a male), several adult red-tailed hawks, and a few turkey vultures.
- Genevieve Rozhon, Charles Bobelis, Chet Fried

11/20 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: We were visited by a broad-winged hawk on a bright sunny morning. It fluffed out its feathers and sat on the top-most perch of an old maple tree. The hawk has been around before, perched on our flagpole, and looking out over the river toward the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse.
- Kathy Donnelly

11/20 - Bedford, HRM 35: Almost all of our raptors emerged out of the northwest today and flew to the southeast or southwest. So even though they were fairly low, we spent a lot of time craning our necks to see birds passing overhead. I had an exceptionally good look at an immature red-shouldered hawk; the bird landed in a tree right next to the hawk-watch platform and looked really surprised to see me up there. We also had another northern goshawk, an immature, and our eleventh of the season
- Genevieve Rozhon

11/20 - Milan HRM 90: We have been visited recently by several brown creepers. They arrive late in the day and work over our oaks. When I first saw them, I thought they were mice; on the lower levels of the tree they are almost invisible on the bark as they make their way up the tree. Also, the "gremlins" have returned: flying squirrels. We have two this year, their eyes reflect the light at night and their flight (glide) is silent and "outer-space" like. It is so nice to have them back after a couple of years.
- Marty Otter

11/21 - Crugers, HRM 39: We spotted the great blue heron standing on the shore at the base of a wooded hill overlooking Ogilvie's Pond. It spread its wings, flew the short distance down to the water and, rather quickly for a great blue, walked down the length of the pond. As we focused on the heron we noticed a flash of white moving in the brush behind. A white-tail doe walked slowly into a clearing before moving up the hill. The great blue settled itself and then grabbed something large out of the water along with a maple leaf. We watched the meal go down its long neck as the leaf floated down out of its mouth.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

11/21 - Westchester County, HRM 36: I spotted a single pine grosbeak feeding with several cedar waxwings today at Pound Ridge. The birds soon scattered about before dropping down again into a housing complex where there were numerous shrubs of winterberry holly in full fruit.
- James Vellozzi

11/21 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had nice looks at bald eagles today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, all of them heading southwest.
- Genevieve Rozhon

11/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67: Thanksgiving Day found me driving some of the less traveled local roads looking for wildlife. Areas that normally would produce wild turkeys were strangely barren. About to give up, I came upon a "blonde" coyote. I almost did not see it as it stood absolutely still, blending into the middle of a field of dried, buff-colored grass. While most of our eastern coyotes come in the grizzled gray and tan colors, I have seen some that were nearly black, others reddish-chestnut, and today's blonde.
- Tom Lake

11/23 - Peekskill, HRM 43: It was the morning after Thanksgiving and we were recovering with tea. Looking out my sliding glass door we saw a large bird that we thought, at first, was a baby wild turkey [poult], but as we watched it more closely we saw that it was eating something it had killed. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an immature northern goshawk. It was very exciting to see the bird eating its kill up close.
- Andrea Schechter, Shelly Mozlin

11/23 - Bedford, HRM 35: Although the local raptors were out and about for the whole day, very few migrants were seen at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. The most exciting bird was an adult peregrine falcon that appeared out of the east and flew southwest. Among the other sightings were six eastern bluebirds and, finally, an eastern red bat.
- Genevieve Rozhon, Jim Jones

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