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Hudson River Almanac January 1 - January 7, 2013

OVERVIEW

Winter brings a focus on birds and that was particularly true this week with the annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census. Yet it was not all eagles, as birds come in many flavors from owls to winter finches and waterfowl. Collectively they provide us with a ready-made measure of the season.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

A long-eared owl perched in a tree

1/7 - Clinton Corners, HRM 85: When I came into work at Upton Lake Christian School today, there were six crows at my bird feeders, but they were mobbing something. It turned out to be a long-eared owl that was sitting on a window sill of the school. Two red-shouldered hawks were mobbing the owl as well. The owl stuck around for several hours, allowing many students and staff members to see the bird. What a way to start the day and also a great science sighting for my classes. (Long-eared owl photo by Matt Merchant.)

- Jim Clinton

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/1 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We began the New Year with air temperatures maxing out in the teens and eighteen beautiful inches of snow on the ground. Our feeder birds included a large flock of common redpolls and American tree sparrows, as well as a male and female northern cardinal. It appears that the cardinals are here for the winter. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a cardinal in Newcomb, so having a pair settling in for the winter is noteworthy. Other species at the feeder were the usual suspects, as well as a sharp-shinned hawk that gave a new meaning to the term "bird feeder."

- Charlotte Demers

1/1 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: I came across an enormous flock of snow buntings on River Road just north of the Village of Coxsackie. Getting a number on the size of this swarm was difficult because they were so flighty. I'd put a conservative estimate at around 600. They just kept flowing onto the road surface and shoulders until the next vehicle went by. Then they'd flow out as a black-and-white ribbon cloud rising and dipping across the fields. There were a few horned larks mixed in.

There were several Lapland longspurs on Flint Mine Road today and very dark savannah sparrows were there as well. Doing a little research on that species leads me to believe these birds might be from the northeastern Canada population, or from the Hudson Bay-Manitoba populations known, respectively, as "Labrador" savannah sparrow and "Churchill" savannah sparrow.

- Rich Guthrie

1/1 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: Three flying squirrels visited our feeder today to say "Happy New Year," following a couple of strong-wind nights without them.

- Peter Relson

1/1 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: While I wait for my first of the season, Tammie Carey had a common redpoll at her feeder today.

- Tom Lake

A short-eared owl perched on a tree stump

1/1 - Town of Warwick, HRM 44: Charlie Roberto, Kyle Bardwell and I spent a few hours in Black Dirt Country. A short eared owl was at Indiana Road (good New Year's Day bird)! We also had five rough legged hawks (both bark and light phases), at least a dozen harriers (including three "gray ghost" males, one killdeer, 200+ horned larks with about 30 snow buntings mixed in, five or six common redpolls (a lifer for Kyle and me), and lots of white-crowned and some savannah sparrows. (Short-eared owl photo by Charlie Roberto.)

- Larry Tractenberg

1/1 - Westchester County, HRM 43-34: I found nine bald eagles along this reach of the river south of China Pier in Peekskill. It was a pretty sure sign that the recent snowy, cold weather had dislodged birds from farther up the Hudson Valley and sent them on down to us.

- Christopher Letts

1/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I took a walk around Croton Point this morning and stopped to watch a female northern harrier hunting over the fields. Waterfowl seemed sparse; there were a few mallards and a drake bufflehead on the west side of the point.

- Steve Seymour

1/1 - Croton Point, HRM 34: The great Aldo Leopold called it "goose music" and who could argue? For the past two days, flock after flock of Canada geese has announced themselves, appeared, passed over, and crossed the river, on their way to Delaware Bay (my guess). These were large flocks, almost always well over 100 birds, and not interested in stopping for a snack. On the model plane flying field there was another New Year's pleasure: two dozen horned larks wheeled in and poked through the grass only a dozen yards from me. It has been several years since I had the pleasure, and I took a long fifteen minutes just to watch.

- Christopher Letts

1/2 - Schodack Island, HRM 135: While aboard the 12:05 PM Amtrak south from Albany, I saw a cluster of bald eagles - immatures and at least one adult - crouched on the broken ice between Schodack Island and the east bank of the river. I could not get a good count from the train but my guess is that there were six, maybe more.

- Barbara Heinzen

1/2 - Germantown, HRM 108: I came upon a flock of about twenty snow buntings feeding on the roadside in mid-afternoon. They moved a bit like starlings and shore birds, stopping to feed, rising and flocking, landing again, and repeating that behavior for the half mile or so that I was able to follow them.

- Mimi Brauch

1/2 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: As I approached the first small bay just down from the Mills Mansion at the Mills-Norrie State Park, I looked up to see an adult bald eagle gliding across just above me and beyond the nearby trees. When I reached the beach I looked back to see that the bird was now perched in a tree overlooking the river. A little while later a second bald eagle, this time an immature, flew over as I walked through the forest.

- Jamie Collins

1/2 - Hyde Park, HRM 80: While leaving the Culinary Institute in late afternoon, I spotted two bald eagles straight overhead. One was an immature and the other was an adult. As they flew together and flapped their big wings, they seemed to be playing, with a little bit of tossing and turning in the air, little bits of the acrobatics that we'd seen so many times with winter eagles.

- Andra Sramek

1/2 - Walden, HRM 65: As I stepped out for my late night star-gazing, I was delighted to hear the loud plaintive call of great horned owls in nearby trees. It was too hazy for stars, but the owls' calls were reward enough in the frigid air. "Who's Awake? Me, too!" went back and forth, sometimes with one refrain starting up before the other had finished. I couldn't locate the silhouettes, but the conversation was fascinating.

- Patricia Henighan

1/2 - West Point, HRM 51: As I snow-shoed up the trail to Redoubt #1, I spotted lots of tracks in the snow but no wildlife other than squirrels. On the way down, however, I spooked a platoon (seven) of white-tailed deer returning from a raid in Highland Falls. About half of them raced up the hill toward Stony Lonesome; the others jumped over the cyclone fence and returned to the village.

- Dick Renfro

1/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: On this, the coldest morning for at least a year, I tried to walk fast (walk fast; stay warm) but there were distractions. On the landfill, a kestrel, a harrier, and a dozen meadowlarks were all worth my attention. An immature bald eagle flapped past with lots of white on its breast and a white mantle, probably a three-year-old. Near the model plane flying field, same place as yesterday, I found two dozen horned larks. I do not recall seeing them here before this year. Close by were a dozen pipits, another kestrel that was perch hunting, and another harrier rocking and rolling in the stiff breeze.

- Christopher Letts

1/3 - Selkirk, HRM 135: Out at the woodshed this morning it was three degrees below zero. The sky was clear with the third quarter moon heading west. It also appeared that the Hudson River was frozen from shore-to-shore. It was very cold.

- Roberta S. Jeracka

1/3 - Ulster Park, HRM 87: As I drove to work, paralleling a small, half-iced stream, an angular black shape caught my eye. Was it a duck? Was it a crow? No, it was a mink on the ice just next to the open water. It rested a little and then picked up a small fish that was on the ice, presumably freshly caught, and scampered away.

- Peter Relson

A barred owl perched on a wooden post

1/3 - George's Island, HRM 39: I had not prepared well for the bitter cold this morning (ten below zero) and ended up doing my morning rounds behind the steering wheel. My nine-mile eagle survey of the Westchester County shoreline came up empty. At George's Island, I spotted a kettle of eight black vultures - flap, flap, flap - slowly rising in what must have been a very weak thermal.

- Christopher Letts

1/3 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A week ago Kyle Bardwell and I got a great photo of a barred owl perched on a broken snag with light snow falling. We had been seeing barred owls there on and off since end of November, as well as some eastern screech owls and resident great horned owls. I stopped to look today but could not find the barred owl. There were pipits and a kestrel on the landfill as well as a hunting harrier.

- Larry Trachtenberg

1/4 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was bitterly cold this morning as I took a walk along the Klara Sauer Trail. As I walked north along the trail an adult bald eagle went flying south toward Denning's Point. Close by a pair of ravens were being very vocal as they circled around the area and a short time later two black vultures came gliding over heading east. Upstream on Fishkill Creek at Madam Brett Park, I was treated to two more bald eagles, an adult and an immature, circling the sky above me. The immature had an almost completely white tail and a lot of white feathers across its belly and all over its wings, likely a three-year-old.

- Jamie Collins

1/4 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Many birds had flocked to my feeders this morning and several were busy feeding on the seeds on the snow-covered ground. Suddenly, there was a flurry of feathers as birds were flying every which way in their attempts to flee a sharp-shinned hawk that had silently descended into their midst. One unlucky dark-eyed junco was unable to reach cover fast enough. The sharp-shinned hawk briefly held its prey to the snow, and then carried it off to have its meal.

- Ed Spaeth

1/4 - Beacon, HRM 61: Five crows, quietly roosting in the bare trees along the train tracks at Riverside Park in mid-afternoon, all went into a frenzy - squawking loudly and mobbing a red-tailed hawk that came to roost nearby. The hawk was unperturbed and totally ignored them.

- Ed Spaeth

1/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: In a span of thirty minutes, five bald eagles flapped over. The dim light precluded the chance to determine their ages. A pair of hooded mergansers decorated the far shore of the Croton River.

- Christopher Letts

1/5 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The flock of horned larks seemed to favor the south end of the model plane "flying strip," attracted to the closely cropped grass. At least, that is where I have found them half a dozen times over the past few days. At least one kestrel and two harriers were still present, as well as many pipits.

- Christopher Letts

1/6 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: We've been enjoying four common redpolls - one male and three females - at our feeders, a first in 23 years of backyard feeder watching. While the numbers of house finches are back to what they were in the early 1990s, we have at least one male and one female with one eye swollen shut, an indication that the conjunctivitis that made them disappear for about ten years is still around. We're wiping down the feeder every day, hoping it helps keep the infection from spreading.

- Linda Lund, David Lund

1/6 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: We took advantage of this beautiful winter day to do some cross-country skiing at the Taconic Hereford Multiple Use Area, an activity which we sorely missed last year. I was thrilled to see the usual little visitors on the snow - winter stoneflies and snow fleas. There were some areas where the springtails made the snow dark with their presence. Watching them hop about is, for me, just as much fun as skiing!

- Cornelia Harris

[Members of a group of insects called springtails, snow fleas (Hypogastrura nivicola) have a little forked tail (furcula) that they fold under their body and use to spring up many times their body length. Their bodies contain a protein that acts as a natural antifreeze, allowing them to be active on top of snow where on warm days they're easy to spot, looking like animated bits of black pepper. Tom Lake.]

1/6 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: A trim shape flew straight to perch in one of the oak trees that Hurricane Sandy left standing at the edge of my property. Facing into the sunlight, I saw only a silhouette and could not identify the bird. The shape of the body and its pointed head, beak, and overall size, suggested a Cooper's hawk. There were quite a few in the nearby woods. As I flipped through my field guide it left, just as a huge bird took off from the edge of the reservoir. The bird slowly flapped its wings a couple of times into a shaft of sunlight. A big eagle! With a white head and white tail feathers, it was an adult. It gained height and headed off toward the Hudson.

- Robin Fox

1/6 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The Point was not as active today as it had been in the past couple of weeks. Two kestrels were on the landfill and four common goldeneyes were feeding far off the swimming beach. That, plus half a dozen horned larks near the flying field, was all that I could say grace over this morning.

- Christopher Letts

1/6 - New York Harbor, Lower Bay: A New York Harbor eco-cruise for New York City Audubon yielded a rich assortment of species. It was a two-hour trip out past the Verrazano Narrows to Swinburne and Hoffman Islands and back. It was unseasonably warm and calm as we sailed through Buttermilk Channel, stopped in Erie Basin in Red Hook, and then continued out through the Narrows. Erie Basin yielded several brant, gadwall, red-breasted mergansers, buffleheads, and a great cormorant. Near the Verrazano Bridge, we had a red-throated loon and a peregrine falcon. Along Hoffman Island we encountered several more buffleheads, some greater scaup, and three fly-by Bonaparte's Gulls. I was surprised to spot great numbers of long-tailed ducks at Swinburne Island, at least 40 birds, most of which were males. We also spotted two or three red-throated loons and a couple of common loons, and were treated to close views of several adult northern gannets flying right by the boat. The highlight: at least a dozen harbor seals bobbing curiously around the boat.

- Gabriel Willow

1/7 - Hudson River Valley: Today was the 35th annual New York State Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census. It was sunny with a blue sky and only the snow on the uplands could masquerade the white heads and tails of adult bald eagles. Since the bald eagle was de-listed as an endangered species in 2007, coupled with an apparent strengthening of their numbers in the Northeast, there does not seem to be quite the sense of urgency in verifying their presence. However, this does not deter from our love of the count. Our final tally for the day would be 33 eagles from river mile 102 south to 34. From experience, given the vagaries of human observation and limited access to many areas, that number probably represented fewer than half of the eagles in attendance across those 68 miles.

- Tom Lake

1/7 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Half an hour after high tide this morning, five bald eagles (three adults and two immature) were clustered together on an ice floe in the cove northwest of the Saugerties Lighthouse. Meanwhile, two more adult eagles perched together in a treetop on the jetty southwest of the lighthouse, watching a flock of common mergansers in the mouth of Esopus Creek. We had seven eagles total, all within a few hundred yards of the lighthouse.

- Patrick Landewe

1/7 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: I tag-teamed with my friend Adrienne today searching for eagles because we both bird the same area and knew our birds appear at various times throughout the day at our local pond. Our final count was two adults and two immatures. While the pond is now frozen, it is surrounded by a stocked game preserve of which - no doubt - the eagles take advantage since they are twenty miles east of the Hudson River.

- Debi Kral

1/7 - Annandale-on-Hudson, HRM 99: Right after Hurricane Sandy, a lone snow goose appeared just off Buttock's Island in Tivoli South Bay. It looked pretty bedraggled, and stuck it out through the fall and into December. Bard College students enjoyed seeing the bird and photographing it. I went out today along the South Bay hoping without much hope that it would still be there. It wasn't. I stood on the island enjoying watching two immature bald eagles as they scared up ring-billed gulls and one great blue heron. I walked south and there, to my amazement, was the snow goose, loitering near the mouth of the Saw Kill.

- Susan Fox Rogers

1/7 - Poughquag, Town of Beekman, HRM 71: I saw two immature bald eagles off Route 216 today. A few weeks ago, we spotted an adult bald eagle on a deer carcass in the same field. The area is over the mountain from Nuclear Lake and Whaley Lake in Pawling, where eagles are regular visitors.

- Patti Mackay

1/7 - Hudson River, HRM 68-58: The thermometer read 35 degrees Fahrenheit at dawn with a clear sky and light winds. A good day for counting eagles, if they were here. The first handicap of winter eagle counting is open water. Floe ice draws the birds from their often hidden niches in riverside trees and gets them out where they can be seen and counted, but there was no ice on the estuary today for at least the first 80 miles upriver. Across ten miles and over two hours, I found four adults, all of whom could have been local birds from at least two nests in that reach of the river.

- Tom Lake

1/7 - West Point, HRM 51: I was out walking along the river at noon when I spotted four common loons out on the river off the South Dock. There were two groups of two, widely spaced.

- Doug Gallagher

1/7 - Westchester County, HRM 43-34: With a reporter and photographer in tow, we canvassed the nine-mile reach of the river from China Pier south to the Croton River counting eagles. We began at Croton Point where five eagles had night-roosted: two adults, two immature, and a three-year-old on the verge of adulthood. At Oscawana, another three-year-old flew past, 100 feet over the water and moving fast. At George's Island, a bird came in from the east and perched on Dogan Point. The spotting scope revealed the dingy white head and tail of yet another three-year-old. At Verplanck, an adult was perched in a tall locust alongside a residential driveway not 150 feet from our viewing station. Across the river over Stony Point in Rockland County two more eagles wheeled over the treetops. At Lent's Cove in Peekskill, an adult was perched in a riverside oak. Finally, we pulled into the parking lot at China Pier in Peekskill, more to see the great cormorants than for any other reason, but there were two immatures circling high over Peekskill Bay. It was a pleasant morning with thirteen bald eagles.

- Christopher Letts

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