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Hudson River Almanac November 24 - November 30, 2012


Nearing the month of Christmas Bird Counts, we enjoyed a week of quite extraordinary bird sightings of uncommon species such as northern shrike, western tanager, Lapland longpsur, Iceland gulls, red-necked grebe, and snowy owl. For information on the upcoming Christmas Bird Counts in the Hudson Valley, see the entry below for 11/30.


11/26 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Peregrine falcons are not uncommon here at the Tarrytown Lighthouse, but the show we got today lasted for nearly an hour while I waited for a school bus full of students to arrive for a lighthouse program. The bird was almost constantly in view ranging from the north end of the park, overhead, and south to the Tappan Zee Bridge: it soared, it stopped, and it "kited." The falcon put fear into the pigeons and starlings, and even the gulls and geese looked uneasy. It was so fast, so graceful, so agile - a miracle with feathers.

- Christopher Letts


11/24 - Newburgh, HRM 61: It was a cold raw morning, but good for ducks and for the Mearns Bird Club. On Crestview Lake we spotted approximately 250 ruddy ducks, about 150 ring-necked ducks, a red-necked grebe, a pied-billed grebe, both common and hooded mergansers, mallards, Canada geese, mute swans, and double-crested cormorant.

- Betsy Hawes, Curt McDermott

11/24 - New Windsor, HRM 60: Our bird club was also treated to the sighting of a long-tailed duck [formerly called oldsquaw] on Brown's Pond. What a beauty!

- Betsy Hawes

[The name "oldsquaw" was dropped from common usage for this duck in favor of long-tailed duck more than a decade ago for several reasons, among which was the negative connotation of the English word and its offensive reference to Native Americans. Tom Lake.]

11/24 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a relatively slow day for migrants at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. However, there were plenty of local red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and black vultures around to keep the counters entertained. The best look at a migrant was of a beautiful adult male northern harrier (grey ghost!) that appeared in the east in the morning and then flew west. We also had four eastern bluebirds.

- Genevieve Rozhon

11/25 - Pine Island, HRM 41: I spotted snow buntings, horned larks, American pipits, and Lapland longspurs along Missionland Road in the Black Dirt area of southwest Orange County.

- Rob Stone

11/25 - Bedford, HRM 35: The first migrating raptor counted today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch was a juvenile northern goshawk, our thirteenth this season. We also spotted two sharp-shinned hawks and a beautiful adult red-shouldered hawk.

- Genevieve Rozhon

11/26 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: I have read in the Hudson River Almanac that others have been seeing yellow-bellied sapsuckers. I have one that frequently comes to our suet feeder. This is the first I've had, along with downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers. I also have a belted kingfisher that flies around my pond "chattering."

- Carol Coddington

11/26 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a surprisingly good day to see bald eagles at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. Two were spotted in the first hour to the east with both heading southwest. Three more bald eagles were spotted in the afternoon: an adult, an immature and a sub-adult. To our delight the sub-adult hung out for quite a long time and at one point perched on Chestnut Ridge.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Chris Reynolds

A flying squirrel jumps off a bird feeder onto a tree

11/27 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67: This past spring I discovered there were three flying squirrels coming to my feeders. Two seemed to be mates as they sometimes appeared to nuzzle each other. Now that it gets dark early, they arrive for dinner in the evening, scurrying up and down the pine tree. Often they wait on the tree trunk as I remove the feeder to fill it with various nuts and peanuts in shells. They are still there, waiting, when I put it back in place. This evening I had one flying squirrel take two peanuts (in shells) from my hand. It was the first time I tried and it took only 45 minutes of patience.

- Terry Hardy

A prehistoric net sinker lays flat next to a penny for size comparison.

11/27 - Beacon, HRM 61: We stood on the beach at Long Dock Park in the soft, silent snowfall watching the early morning flood tide creep up the beach. We were searching for quartzite cobbles for an Ice Age exhibit at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum. What we found was even better: a prehistoric sandstone net sinker. By the time we left the snow had picked up, the fog had lowered, and we could barely see the mallards floating a couple of hundred feet offshore. The river, chilled by the snow, was 44 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[During the Hudson Valley Stone Age (c. 9,000 BC to AD 1600), hand-woven nets made from natural fibers were weighted down when in use by pebble-sized sandstone net sinkers. The net sinkers had shallow "nicks" pecked from each side to allow cordage to be tied around and then fastened to the bottom of the net. They could be fashioned in a matter of seconds so there was no need to keep old ones when the fishing party moved on. They are not a rare artifact on many Hudson Valley beaches. Tom Lake.]

11/27 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Here we are near the beginning of December and a friend in Croton has a hedge of forsythia in full bloom. It looks like early spring. My yard is dappled with snow, and covered in sawdust from the cleanup of a giant red oak that keeled over a stone wall, into my yard, and onto my house during Hurricane Sandy. For days afterward, the only way to get in and out of my house was to step, crouch, and slither over and under tree-sized limbs. The company that dismembered the tree stacked for splitting what will eventually be about a cord or more of firewood. The stump is pointed at the house like cannon, held in place by its huge root ball. I counted the growth rings: the old oak was 97 years old. The drama and fright is fading from memory; what's left is the heady, strong fragrance of freshly cut wood and a large open space in the woods.

- Robin Fox

11/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was late dusk, early evening, and as we were walking our dog a large raptor dropped out of a tall sycamore and glided across the road into a stand of pines less than a hundred feet ahead of us. With a big head, silent flight, and an impressive wingspread, it was a great horned owl.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[The owl's primary feathers on their wings have special adaptations for silent flight, including a serrated or fringed leading edge that effectively muffles sound as they fly and hunt. Tom Lake.]

11/28 - Beacon, HRM 61: I had an opportunity to scan the waterfront at Beacon this afternoon. Among the 350-400 gulls present, I counted three juvenile Iceland gulls. All were between the end of Beacon Waterfront Park and the ramp for the Newburgh-Beacon Ferry. Gull numbers (winter assemblages) are on the rise and the first good ones have arrived.

- Curt McDermott

11/28 - Pine Island, HRM 41: I was searching for Lapland longspurs and snow buntings in the Black Dirt region today when a bird flew along a ditch to the side. I immediately knew by the size, shape, and flight that it was a shrike. It flew up and landed on a strong branch where I was able to identify it as an adult northern shrike. This was the first northern shrike I have seen in Orange County in a few years. Unfortunately the locale is quite wide open and I'm not so sure that the shrike will feel comfortable, especially when there are multiple northern harriers working the fields. Today, I had four of them!

- Ken McDermott

[The northern shrike is a boreal songbird whose presence in the Hudson Valley in winter is often associated with severe weather to the north. Raptor-like in habit if not appearance, it typically perches at the tip-top of trees or other vantage points to search for prey, and will often impale its catch - smaller songbirds and rodents - on thorns and barbed wire. This has earned the shrike the scientific name Lanius excubitor, meaning "butcher watchman." Tom Lake.]

11/28 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: Forty-five eager school kids from Ossining were waiting for their visit to the Tarrytown Lighthouse. I glanced up into a partly cloudy sky to see a sundog, or perihelion, glowing over our heads. "A rainbow, a rainbow" was the cry from the children. We went back to the subject of shipping on the river and, not two minutes later, one of the second-graders pointed up and we watched as an immature bald eagle flew directly over our heads.

- Christopher Letts

11/29 - Ulster County, HRM 97: I live on the lower Esopus Creek (Lake Katrine) which has been subject to periodic reservoir releases that have turned the water a milky-brown. Lately, however, the water has been quite clear and perhaps that is why the Canada geese were around. Today there was a very thin skim of ice on the very calm water. Three dozen geese were lined up along the ice and were nibbling at the edges. By late afternoon the ice had melted and the geese had left.

- Carol Countryman

11/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Very brisk and cold westerlies kept most of the songbirds close to cover this morning at Bowdoin Park. We had to skirt along the brushy edges of the woods to find the object of our search: bluebirds. Once we came upon one, we found twenty. Their blue and orange colors glowed in the brilliant sunshine as they hopped from branch to bush through the edge habitat foraging for seeds, berries, and bugs.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

11/29 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was another fairly quiet day for migrants at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. A completely back-lit bald eagle showed up out of the east and went southwest early in the afternoon. Later, a sharp-shinned and a Cooper's hawk showed up to the south, engaged in an aerial battle. Fighting accipters were definitely the most exciting thing I've seen in a while (both went southwest).The last bird of the day was an adult bald eagle "thermaling" out to the east and drifting south.

- Genevieve Rozhon

11/30 - Greene County, HRM 131: The Greene County IDA Grasslands was very quiet. Just as I was leaving, a flock of common redpolls arrived and I could hear many more going overhead.

- Will Raup

11/30 - Green County, HRM 124: Coxsackie Reservoir held the most variety with about 500 Canada geese, 200 ruddy ducks, 75 common mergansers, 12 hooded mergansers, four American black ducks and a few mallards.

- Will Raup

11/30 - Athens, HRM 118: We visited a home in Greene County where a western tanager had been sighted. The bird fed on a feeder almost constantly the entire time we were there.

- Will Raup, Anthony Collerton

[The western tanager breeds in the mountains of the West. Stragglers occasionally show up in the east, often in late fall/early winter. The New York State Ornithological Association considers this species to be a rarity for which documentation should be submitted for sightings anywhere in the state. Steve Stanne.]

11/30 - Town of Ulster, HRM 92: An immature snowy owl has been seen in the Kingston area for more than a week. It has been loyal to the light stanchions in a supermarket parking lot and has been active at night.

- Mark DeDea

11/30 - Hudson Valley: The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is the longest running citizen-science effort and is held throughout the country in the weeks around Christmas. It replaces the Victorian era "side-shoot," during which guests went out to shoot as many different bird and mammal species as possible on Christmas Day. In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman organized a group of friends to observe, count and share information about bird species without shooting them. The National Audubon Society, which Chapman helped organize, now sponsors this annual tradition. As an enlightened alternative, thousands of people go out to count and document as many bird species as their group can in a sporting, competitive way. The result has been the gathering of significant data which has monitored changes in bird populations and distribution over the years.

- Rich Guthrie

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