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Hudson River Almanac December 1 - December 7, 2012

OVERVIEW

While we still had fourteen days of autumn to go, it was a week for winter waterfowl. Christmas Bird Counts will commence shortly; see the Winter Programs list below for contact and participation information.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/2 - Ulster County, HRM 69: Heading south on Berme Road along the banks of Rondout Creek, I spotted a large flock of snow geese (estimated at 800-1,000 birds) that had stopped overnight in a field of corn stubble. The geese were happily gleaning leftover corn and resting up for the day's flight. At first it did not register that they were birds; I took them for scattered snow drifts until I did a double take and realized what I was seeing. I could only marvel at the size of the flock. Later in the day the field was empty again.

- Sarah Underhill

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/1 - Bedford, HRM 35: Although we did not expect to see much migrant action on the last day of the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch count, we were pleasantly surprised by a small kettle of migrating turkey vultures. An adult sharp-shinned hawk was also spotted moving on a south-easterly trajectory in the afternoon. Other sightings included buffleheads (6), Canada geese (39), and a flock of 300 double-crested cormorants that came in from the east.

- Genevieve Rozhon, Jim Jones

12/1 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: A common loon had been fishing around the Tarrytown Lighthouse rocks all morning. Handsome in winter plumage, it seemed very unafraid. I was delighted when, as a class of students crossed the little bridge leading to the lighthouse, it surfaced almost beneath the bridge, affording all of us a great closeup view.

- Christopher Letts

12/2 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Shortly after daybreak, the fog thickened and lowered to where visibility was not more than a couple of hundred feet. A dozen mallards were dabbling on the low tide along shore for the last of the aquatic vegetation. Offshore at the limit of sight, I saw a bright white patch slowly moving parallel to an exposed gravel bar. Binoculars were not much help as they condensed the gloom. Finally I was able to make out a male hooded merganser, one of the prettiest ducks of the season, and trailing behind were six hen mergansers. If not for its brilliant crest I would never have known they were there.

- Tom Lake

12/2 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: As I talked to the day's first class of students outside the Tarrytown Lighthouse, a peregrine falcon landed in an elm tree twenty feet over our heads. That shifted the conversation for a few minutes. The bird stayed, preening and ignoring the commotion on the ground, for almost an hour.

- Christopher Letts

12/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: A morning spent birding at Croton Point offered some nice highlights. Included were more than 300 snow geese in a high flyover heading southeast, a peregrine falcon bathing in a large puddle by the athletic fields, a substantial flock of American pipits (42) on the landfill, and nearly 40 eastern bluebirds including 32 in one flock.

- Anne Swaim

12/3 - Croton River, HRM 34: I could have guessed the date: the first coots of the year had arrived and the Metro North commuter parking lot at the Croton-Harmon Station was thickly layered with "Item #4", i.e., the crushed shells of wedge rangia clams dropped by gulls. Clamming season had begun. The gulls harvest the clams at low tide; on a good minus tide, it is not unusual to see up to 60 ring-billed gulls probing the mudflats for clams. Then they carry them over and drop them from about 40 feet in the air onto the hard pavement to break them open. However, they do not always hit the pavement; sometimes the heavy clams land on automobiles in the lot. The black-backed and herring gulls tend to let the smaller ring-billed gulls do the work, and then swoop in to pirate the clam meats. This is strictly cold-weather behavior. By spring the black asphalt will appear almost white and more than one commuter will get off the train to find a fresh "ding" in their vehicle.

- Christopher Letts

[Wedge rangia are a bivalve mollusk native to more southerly brackish coastal and inshore waters like Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. It is believed that they were inadvertently introduced to the lower Hudson River about twenty years ago through the ballast water of commercial vessels. They are now found as far upriver as Newburgh. Dave Strayer, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.]

12/4 - Selkirk, HRM 135: As I walked near Bethlehem's Henry Hudson Park on a warm (55 degrees Fahrenheit) afternoon, I was surprised to see a bat feeding in daylight. It came close to me, and as it circled around I could see it had the distinct red-orange color of an eastern red bat. It seemed to be finding insects to eat, despite the time of year.

- John Kent

12/4 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: The students who joined me at the Tarrytown Lighthouse today were treated to the first common goldeneye ducks of the season.

- Christopher Letts

12/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It felt like the middle of the night but was actually only an hour until first light. It was still plenty dark as I was brought out of a deep sleep by the chilling barks, shrieks, whimpers, and yips of coyotes; it seemed like there were at least three of them, and they sounded as though they were right outside my window. As I thought about it, this recurring arousal from sleep may well be a seasonal variation of reindeer on rooftops, with howls in place of Ho-Ho-Ho.

- Tom Lake

12/5 - Beacon, HRM 61: A small flock of common mergansers came to rest in the shallows off the south side of Long Dock Park. In the soft light of dawn, the males, or drakes, positively glowed. I counted eleven with one extra hen.

- Tom Lake

A male common merganser wades in the Hudson River A female common merganser wades in the Hudson River

[The drake common merganser, with its brighter-than-white body accented with a black back and green head, is frequently described as one of the most strikingly beautiful of diving ducks. The equally gorgeous hen common merganser, with her fly-away red-feathered head, always reminds me of The Bride of Frankenstein. Tom Lake. Photos by Mike Pogue.]

12/6 - Athens, HRM 118: The western tanager had moved on (see 11/30). Today was the last we saw the bird. We enjoyed her company for ten days and during that time had a total of 29 birders stop by to see her. It was a pleasure meeting and learning from everyone.

- Peter Lannon

[Peter and his wife Dawn were amazingly gracious hosts, welcoming all the birders into their lovely home to see the western tanager at their feeders. Larry Federman]

12/6 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was a midday low tide and the bay held an estimated hundred gulls. We were cautiously optimistic of spotting some of the uncommon species that Curt McDermott and others have seen in these waterfront gatherings. But the gulls were all ring-billed or black-backed - nothing unusual. A chillingly brisk north wind had them all in the lee of the former landfill. We were resigned to an ordinary visit when a large dark bird flew up along the shore and landed in the top of a tall hardwood. With the first brief glance I thought it might be a rough-legged hawk (dark morph), but quickly we saw the scruffy head of a raven.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

12/7 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 85: The shallows out to the lighthouse were sprinkled with an array of winter waterfowl, including several common goldeneyes, pairs of buffleheads, scaup (lesser?), common mergansers, and a few ruddy ducks. As I stood absorbing the view, I recalled a note that Skip Doyle had sent to me about a Sunday in October. Skip was here, at the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, with fellow kayakers from the Mid-Hudson chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, and he gave a sound assessment of the landscape: "As we paused at the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, I reflected upon my 50+ years of life on the river in the Town of Esopus. The eagles and blue heron we take for granted today were nonexistent here in my youth - true also for wild turkey. What is constant is that as you look south from the lighthouse, the shorelines are identical to what they were as century ago. The only visible structures are Mount Saint Alphonsus and the Mills Mansion, both built at the turn of the twentieth century. What struck me that day was not so much what we saw, as what we did not see: obtrusive development. We can readily list eyesores we see from our river, but looking south this morning from the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, the handiwork of conservationists, preservationists, and environmentalists was evident."

- Tom Lake

12/7 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: This is an update on the flying squirrels at my feeders (see 11/27). I now am able to hand-feed all three of them. Although I tell them apart by their tail lengths, two of them are reddish-brown (northern flying squirrels?) while the third one is much grayer (southern flying squirrel?)

- Terry Hardy

[Although we are relating this story - entries about flying squirrels are uncommon - it is never a good idea to hand-feed wildlife. Many if not most can inadvertently bite, and that can bring its own problems. In addition, wildlife is just that: "wild" life. When they are hand-fed they become habituated to our largess and lose their natural fear of humans, all of which can spell doom for their survival. Tom Lake.]

12/7 - Beacon, HRM 61: A small raft of black ducks was bobbing in the chop off the south side of Long Dock Park. They were dabbling, tails-up, on the last of the vegetation, probably wild celery. While the December days continued to fluctuate between a taste of autumn and a glimpse of winter, it felt like we were only one seriously snowy nor'easter away from first ice. The river temperature had dropped to 41 degrees F.

- Tom Lake

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