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Hudson River Almanac December 22 - December 31, 2012

OVERVIEW

The year ended with ten days of winter birds, emerging ice, and feelings of renewal right around the corner. The impetus for avian migration came from a mid-week snowstorm that left up to fifteen inches of snow in the watershed.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/22 - Milan, HRM 90: There have been several bobcat encounters, both sight and sound, along the quiet road where I live. The latest was at 7:00 PM this evening when a neighbor reported that as he was driving home he had to stop because two bobcats appeared to be playing together on the road. He was able to watch them for awhile before one moved quickly off the road into the brush and was followed shortly by the second cat.

- Frank Margiotta

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

A female common merganser chows down on a pumpkinseed sunfish

12/22 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: I watched for a while as a gorgeous hen common merganser repeatedly dove on what I assumed were fish. She finally surfaced with a pumpkinseed sunfish in her serrated bill.

- Debi Kral

12/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was well after dark and snow flurries were in the air. The trees along the pathway were listing from the strong northerlies and from them I could hear one of the most haunting sounds of the season: winter winds rushing through conifers.

- Tom Lake

12/23 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I was driving home in mid-afternoon when I spotted a flight of vultures. I was able to both count (22) and identify them (black vultures) as they flew from northwest to southeast. What a nice Christmas present!

- Andra Sramek

12/23 - Hammond's Point, HRM 60: From the window of our speeding commuter train we were able to spot two immature bald eagles lounging in a cottonwood near the mouth of Fishkill Creek. Were these winter birds or locals? There had not yet been any real motivation for Canadian eagles to move this far south for the winter.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

12/23 - Croton Point, HRM 36: While there is nothing like a flock of bluebirds to lift the spirit, a flock of 40 American pipits will suffice. I walked the bathing beach and picked up a dozen splits of stove wood, washed down from who knows where, to be burned in the wood stove when I have time to watch the fire and consider the matter.

- Christopher Letts

12/23 - Bronx-Westchester County: The Bronx-Westchester County Christmas Bird Count tallied a preliminary total of 126 species that tied for the highest number seen on this 89-year count. Three new species were found: the barnacle goose in Van Cortlandt Park; a magnolia warbler at Wave Hill in the Bronx; and two clay-colored sparrows, one in Pelham Bay Park and one at Marshlands Conservancy in Rye.

- Michael Bochnik

12/23 - Brooklyn, New York City: A morning sea watch at the boardwalk at 35th Street in Coney Island was fairly interesting, although there wasn't a ton of diversity. The recent influx of long-tailed ducks continued as I watched about 350 fly west toward Gravesend Bay, and saw many others in the water and flying around. I also had two separate razorbills fly by close to shore, heading west

- Doug Gochfeld

12/24 - Town of Esopus, HRM 87: On Christmas Eve we were driving north on route 9W and received a lovely gift from nature: an adult bald eagle was flying in lazy circles 150 feet above the roadway. We watched it from our car for about 30 seconds. Then the bird dipped its wing, nodded its head in our direction as if to make a greeting, and soared off toward the river.

- Mark Moriarty, Linda Moriarty

12/24 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: I had stopped by Tamarack for some landscape pictures when I spotted a red-tailed hawk sitting high in a tree. Suddenly, a huge bird seemed to come out of nowhere and started flying toward me: an immature bald eagle. The hawk, on territory, flew over to drive the eagle away. What a thrill to watch! Both birds returned to their "corners": the hawk to its tree on the north side; the eagle to the "eagle tree" (a big oak) on the south side of the pond.

- Debi Kral

12/24 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A kestrel that I had been seeing for a while was hunting this morning on the windward edge of the landfill. When a special bird stays this long in the season, I always hope that it will winter.

- Christopher Letts

12/25 - Warren County, HRM 209: On my way to the North Country, I was rewarded with excellent views of thirteen pine grosbeaks in Queensbury this afternoon. The birds had been reported in the general area, feeding on the numerous crab apple trees surrounding the Queensbury Middle School.

- Derek Rogers

12/26 - Rensselaer County, HRM 135: Three snow geese were present at the intersection of Schodack Landing Road and Muitzeskill Road where many had been reported earlier in December. We also counted five northern harriers hunting the nearby fields (four females and one male).

- Jesse Jaycox

12/26 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: There had been very few birds and very few species at the thistle feeder beyond my deck, but this morning there were three common redpolls eating together - a welcome change from the chickadees, juncos, and occasional goldfinch. Maybe I just happened to look out the window at the right time.

- Phyllis Marsteller

12/26 - Rhinecliff, HRM 88: We were sitting in the car alongside the tracks and the Hudson near Rhinecliff when two gorgeous adult bald eagles flew twenty feet over us. I fell out of the car, tangled in the seatbelt, trying to take a photograph. I had never been that close.

- Debi Kral

12/26 - Red Hook, HRM 96.5: While on the Ulster-Dutchess Christmas Bird Count, my birding partner and I spotted a merlin at Greig Farms. There was also a female northern harrier "quarter-hunting" over the fields. The merlin landed on a utility pole and, at first, with a sidelong glance, I thought it was a pigeon (is that why it was once called the pigeon hawk?). As I got out of the car to double-check, the bird, clearly a merlin, took off southwest across the fields in very swift, direct flight. We lost sight of it but took off in the direction of the bird to try to relocate it. Later we found it perched high atop a tall tree, tearing apart an unidentified songbird.

- Fred Baumgarten

[Merlins are one of three falcons that we see with regularity in the Hudson Valley. In the 1934 edition of the Roger Tory Peterson Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America, the merlin is referred to as the eastern pigeon hawk. The two others are the peregrine falcon (duck hawk) and the kestrel (sparrow hawk). Peterson offered these common names as a guide to each falcon's preferred prey size. Tom Lake.]

12/27 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Yesterday's storm dropped at least fifteen inches of snow on the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

- Charlotte Demers

12/27 - Rensselaer County, HRM 139: The bird feeders in Stephentown were mobbed following the snowstorm. Common redpolls have been present for a week or more and have been increasing in number from two or three to now more than 40. They are usually at the feeder first thing in the morning and then gone for the rest of the day. But today they hung around all day. We counted 42 common redpolls with ten to twelve house finches and a few chickadees, juncos, and goldfinches mixed in. In addition to feeding on sunflower seed, the redpolls were stripping catkins from the white birch tree next to the feeders.

- Jesse Jaycox

12/27 - Milan, HRM 90: We got about seven inches of snow with a coating of ice from the storm. The usual suspects were at the feeders: juncos, cardinals, blue jays, hairy, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, brown creepers, crows, and one wild turkey. Turkey numbers have been way down this year. I keep the feeders full - it's a full time job with the squirrels.

- Marty Otter

12/27 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I counted fourteen common mergansers, an even split of hens and drakes, on Wappinger Creek. There was a very thin icy covering across most of it.

- Jamie Collins

12/27 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: We received four inches of extremely heavy, wet slushy snow from the storm on Rabbit Island. The wooden handle of a snow shovel snapped in half under the weight. The storm contributed to a very high river level at high tide. Hooded mergansers circled around the island and rested on the rock swale at the south edge.

- David Cullen

[Like hurricanes, nor'easters can cause storm surge and storm tides. As shown by the green line in this graph from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's tide gauge at the Battery in New York City (visit http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/geo.shtml?location=8518750; in Products column click on Preliminary Water Level), the December 26-27 nor'easter pushed a five foot storm surge into the estuary. Fortunately, the surge peaked at low tide; flooding would have been more severe if the surge had occurred at high tide. Steve Stanne.]

A graph showing the high water levels on December 26 and December 27 near New York City caused by the snowfall.

12/27 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The much anticipated snow storm dropped slushy, wet stuff. The birds were feeding non-stop and the squirrels were racing through the tree tops as if they didn't want to get their feet wet.

- Robin Fox

12/27 - Manhattan, New York City: An unlikely American woodcock was seen dodging traffic and theater-leaving pedestrians this evening in the area of Manhattan's Eighth Avenue and 45th Streets.

- Keith Michael

12/28 - Milan, HRM 90: It has been awhile since we've had a large flock of common redpolls at our feeders. There were more than twenty birds in a feeding frenzy from feeder to feeder (thistle, platform, sunflower). They did not stay around long and were very difficult to check because of all the movement. I had one good look at an adult male: deep pink on the breast. Probably the others were first year, female and other males. It would have been nice to identify a hoary redpoll in with the nomadic flock.

- Frank Margiotta

12/28 - Verbank, HRM 82: I was heading home on Oak Summit Road when I had to quickly stop the car for a double-take: perched in a tree alongside the road was an adult bald eagle.

- Debi Kral

12/28 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: While walking to Wappinger Lake today, my wife pointed up to the sky at a bird and asked me what it was. I looked up to see an immature snowy owl gliding quite low above us, heading southward. It was low enough that I could see some barring on the underside of the wings and breast.

- Jamie Collins, Leena Collins

12/29 - Minerva, HRM 284: We received fourteen inches of nice dry snow from the other day's storm, on top of four inches of previous white stuff. Snow was needed and was very much appreciated here in the Gore Mountain region. It's snowing pretty hard again today and we have a fresh five inches on the ground with several more inches expected. The dogs and I, and our fine Korean student, Woo Seok, got out on the snowshoes this afternoon. It was Woo's first time on snowshoes and it was great (I highly recommend snowshoes whether you have a foot or only five inches of snow).

- Mike Corey

12/29 - North Germantown HRM 108. During light snowfall in the late afternoon, I was cross-country skiing along the Hudson south of Lasher Park. Cross country skiing doesn't make a lot of noise, but it was enough to disturb a large flock of Canada geese sheltering in the lee of the steep brushy bank. Alerted by their honking, I skied through the heavy brush to the bank to take a picture which, unfortunately, only disturbed them more. Upriver and downriver the geese barely moved, but right by me they went out about a hundred feet forming a perfect arc, with me at the center. There were far too many to count, but my best guess was 300.

- Kaare Christian

12/29 - New Paltz, HRM 78: It began snowing in late morning and birds started mobbing the feeders, knocking each other off the perches, so we threw black oil sunflower seeds on the ground as well. A very large flock of Canada geese was sitting in the snow in the Wallkill River flood plain, hunkering down waiting for the snow to stop.

- Lynn Bowdery

12/30 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: I have had a pileated woodpecker in my yard for the last couple of years. This morning he seemed to like the black cherry tree, feeding on some insects in the bark and making a large hole in it. I saw what looked like mating behavior last spring, with two large woodpeckers circling the tree, clinging to the bark.

- Nancy Clancy

12/30 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: While shoveling on a cold, windy, partly cloudy morning, I could hear Canada geese approaching from way overhead. I looked up to see, not the usual "V" formation of geese flying south, but an actual "W" of geese with two leaders pointing the way by being positioned right in the center. I've never seen anything like that. There had to be a couple of hundred birds. Fifteen minutes later a usual "V" formation was overhead with another flock heading south as well.

- Andra Sramek

12/30 - Orange County, HRM 44: We spent a couple of hours in the afternoon checking out several "hot spots," expecting that the recent cold and ground-covering snow would have brought in some long-expected arrivals. Near Goshen, we picked up two snow buntings flying in time with our car; they landed on the road's edge as we slowed down to enjoy them. In the Pine Island area we ran into a flock of 120 horned larks and with them seven snow buntings and two Lapland longspurs.

- Ken McDermott, Steve Schuyler

12/30 - Pleasantville, HRM 32: A large flock of vultures has made the historic district of Pleasantville its winter home, soaring overhead and roosting on trees and rooftops right in the center of town. We counted the flock as numbering at least 80. It contained a 50:50 mix of turkey vultures and the much more recently range-expanding black vultures that used to be a southern species. We wonder how so many individuals get enough to eat; they must range far and wide to find road-killed animals to scavenge.

- Joe Wallace, Sharon AvRutick

12/31 - Warren County, HRM 209: A friend and I went to look for the pine grosbeaks [see 12/25] in Queensbury, checking several of the areas where they had been reported, but came up empty handed. We eventually found seventeen pine grosbeaks on a trail behind the Adirondack Community College before a sharp-shinned hawk flushed the birds away. Further on we saw several pine grosbeaks, many cedar waxwings plus one possible Bohemian waxwing, and a bluebird. A while later, twenty miles south at Northumberland, two birders reported seeing a greater white-fronted goose.

- Jesse Jaycox

12/31 - Kinderhook, HRM 135: Birding from our car in midday, we spotted a light phase rough-legged hawk perched in a tree at the side of the road. As we drove further on to a straightaway where we could turn, a flock of about 50 snow buntings fed at the road's edge before flying into an adjacent field. A little further on, a kestrel was perched on a telephone pole. When we finally returned to the rough-legged hawk, it lifted off, showing a pale belly, so perhaps it was an adult male.

- Danny Lynch, Clellie Lynch

12/31 - Hillsdale, HRM 119: Today and for the last week, we have had a small flock of common redpolls at our feeder. The sun glinting off that violet-red spot on their head is spectacular. We also were visited by a grackle that gulped a few pieces of suet and then moved on.

- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

12/31 - George's Island, HRM 39: The white head feathers of a bald eagle are unmistakable, but a sighting from a hundred yards away, with the bird sheltered among branches, made it less certain. I did not want to paddle my kayak any closer to be sure and I was also thinking that it could be a patch of snow on a branch. But then an immature eagle flew over me and landed in the same tree, where the two birds began to speak "eagle" to each other.

- Stephen Butterfass

12/31 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: We were so excited to spot our first bald eagle of the season at Oscawana Point today. Although the lakes and ponds have been frozen in this area, we didn't know if our winter eagles had arrived yet from up north, but are now hopeful that this was one of the visitors. Our sighting was a beautiful adult bird, silhouetted against the gray afternoon sky, as it perched on a high branch over the point. The river was serene and glassy, unlike yesterday's roiling white-capped water. What a perfect way to end 2012!

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

12/31 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The new snow on the Point was laced with coyote tracks from end-to-end. After a protracted delay due to warm weather, wintering eagles might be starting to move south. An immature was perched on the Point today. Three eastern meadowlarks were feeding up on the landfill as a kestrel watched from a well marker. The bathing beach was a barren, tide-swept, frozen moonscape, where several small flocks of pipits were foraging. A single snow bunting was having a lonely morning and a killdeer flushed ahead of me several times as I walked the length of the beach.

- Christopher Letts

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