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Hudson River Almanac January 8 - January 14, 2013

OVERVIEW

This week was marked by atypical winter weather and reports of wildlife's predictable response. The possibility of climate change effects weave their way into these discussions, as do reminiscences of the good old days when winters were winters.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/12 - Metro North Hudson Line; HRM 34-11: Glued to the riverside window of my commuter car, a nice clean one for a change, I could not help myself on the run from Grand Central Station in Manhattan to the Croton-Harmon station 33 miles north - I had to look. As it turned out, this was not a great run, the result of the mild winter - no ice on the river and very few birds to see. The days of great rafts of thousands of scaup and canvasback ducks are past. I had to be content with the river view and with fifteen species of birds. In a normal winter, I would have expected several dozen bald eagles to be riding the ice, soaring, or perched in trees. I was pleased to spot just one, as the train slowly rolled into the Croton-Harmon station.

- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/8 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: In less than two hours at midday, I spotted four bald eagles: two adults flying up the river and then perched on the western shore, and two immatures chasing one another just south of Norrie Point.

- Jim Herrington

1/8 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: My backyard barred owl had moved on to a new day roost; it was such a delight to have him out there in plain view for a few days. Today's visitors to the feeders: a mob of common redpolls. They are so cute!

- Deb Kral

1/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 69: At midday from across the Hudson, I spotted one of the resident adult bald eagles perched at the edge of the river.

- John Scott

1/8 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: While traveling along Creek Road paralleling the tidal Wappinger, two bald eagles, one adult and one immature, flew upstream low over the water. It took me by surprise to see them flying so low and pretty exciting to see two in quick succession. I stopped to watch the immature fishing. I'm not sure what it caught but it was quite large and it took it up to a tree to eat.

- Jamie Collins

1/8- Croton Point, HRM 34: I counted 40 pipits this morning but no meadowlarks or horned larks. A kestrel and a peregrine falcon were hunting in the wooded area on the border of the marsh. Two white-tailed bucks walked the ridge-top - one a stout six-pointer, the other a ten-pointer that absolutely dwarfed the smaller buck.

- Christopher Letts

1/9 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: An immature bald eagle has taken up temporary residence in one of two trees on our island. For the past four days it spent time each day perched in either a red oak or a tall basswood on the north edge of Rabbit Island. Several times during the day the eagle has landed on a favorite branch, surveying the area and staying there for a period of time, departing only when I tried to get a picture of him with a long distance lens. Some thrill to see such a large predator just seventy feet away, behaving like it owned the place.

- David Cullen

1/9 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Common mergansers are, well, common here in winter. Several hundred are often to be seen, scattered along the river from Haverstraw Bay to Peekskill. During the last of the flood tide this morning, I spotted a concentration of birds a quarter mile north of Croton Bay in the main stem of the Hudson. There were hundreds of birds spread over a five acre area. At least three hundred common mergansers were diving, and hundreds of gulls were in the air and on the water, presumably to glean or steal what they could. At least two dozen black-backed gulls were there, the most I had seen since the herring run last spring. I could not tell what the food source was; perhaps something roiled up and concentrated by the force of the flood tide bumping out into the channel after forcing its way around the Point. Whatever the draw was to that spot, it was powerful. I did not see a single eagle in my travels today.

- Christopher Letts

A great-blue heron hunched over in a shallow stream

1/10 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Counting the drifting brash ice in the channel, the river was about 50 percent covered, and much less than earlier in the week. There was still plenty of eagle activity around the Saugerties Lighthouse, but I haven't seen them congregate like they did three days ago, which made them easy to count.

- Patrick Landewe

1/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 74: We watched a great blue heron today on our field trip to the grounds at Vassar College. The heron was so still we thought it had frozen. One of our bird club members spotted a merlin dining near the Observatory.

- Deb Kral

1/10 - Wappinger Fall, HRM 67.5: Taking a walk along Wappinger Creek, I was fortunate to see an adult bald eagle perched in a tree in the center of the creek where a backwater marsh juts out to meet the main stem. It sat, barely moving, apart from the occasional glance around the area. A small group of common mergansers with a single female hooded merganser went sailing underneath where the eagle was perched. Neither seemed concerned with the other's presence.

- Jamie Collins

1/10 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: This afternoon an adult bald eagle joined the immature on a branch in the large red oak just outside my office. That's five sightings in five days, making for some fabulous viewing.

- David Cullen

1/10 - Beacon-Newburgh Bridge, HRM 62.3: Just before sunset, while crossing westbound on the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge, I was able to clearly witness a perihelion, known to sailors as a "sun dog." This is a form of halo consisting of an image of the sun at the same altitude and some distance from it, usually 22 degrees. The halos are caused by the refraction of light by ice crystals in the atmosphere.

- Robert Anderson

1/10 - Fishkill, HRM 61: This morning at first light, for the first time, there were three white-tailed bucks in my back yard. One, a good looking six-pointer, was bedded down; then along came a smaller four-pointer and a "spike" (two-pointer). The six-pointer got up and jousted with the four-pointer, easily forcing him back while the spike looked on. Last year we had a good-sized six-pointer but a much bigger eight-pointer as well. It was the largest I had seen in 32 years at my house. That one was very husky with a big neck and would have field-dressed out around 225 pounds.

- Lee Banner

1/10 - Beacon, HRM 61: Sunrise occurred one minute earlier this morning for the first time since June 18. I counted 40 common mergansers, both hens and drakes, handsome birds. The real show was watching the males "scoot" across the water to drive off other males - breeding hierarchies were being established in January. All the while, an adult bald eagle was perched overhead in an old cottonwood. He was not bothered by my presence and the ducks were apparently not concerned by his.

- Tom Lake

1/10 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: We met with other Saw Mill River Audubon members at Steamboat Dock in Verplanck for an eagle monitoring program. We noted black-backed gulls, common mergansers, ring-billed gulls, greater scaup and many Canada geese. When we had just about given up on our eagle search, we noticed a gorgeous adult perched high in a tree over a house overlooking the river. None of us had seen it flying in, and it just seemed to appear from nowhere to make our search worthwhile.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

[This tree, an oak that stands to the rear of those viewing the river in Verplanck, has frequently, for a decade or more, provided such a "ghost bird" sighting. Birders become so intent on watching the river that an eagle will slip into the tree, not a hundred feet away, and seem to magically appear when someone finally turns around. Tom Lake.]

1/11 - Saratoga County, HRM 180: In December 2012, a report came into the NYSBIRDS E-birds List of a northern hawk-owl sighting in Saratoga County. The bird was seen briefly but then not again, until this afternoon. This would be the first northern hawk-owl in Region 8 since 2003 in Montgomery County.

- Will Raup

1/11 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: We stood alongside the Metro North railroad tracks and watched David Cullen's Rabbit Island bald eagle, an adult, perched in his red oak. Moments later and a mile upstream (Wappinger Creek) another adult bald eagle sat at the very edge of the ice not more than a hundred feet from a Canada goose and seven common mergansers.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[This is an enduring mystery of avian predator-and-prey behavior: There are times when pandemonium will break out in flocks of waterfowl with even the suggestion of an eagle's presence. Then there are times when ducks and geese will show no signs of agitation with an eagle close at hand. There must be some form of predator-prey non-verbal communication indicating a well-fed raptor. Tom Lake.]

1/11 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: While sitting near the Chelsea Yacht Club, I saw one lone snow goose slowly drifting north with the incoming current. Its head only turned when it heard the unmistakable call of a kingfisher that kept moving from boat mast to tree and back.

- Andra Sramek

1/12 - Schodack Island, HRM 133: This afternoon, I watched a pair of bald eagles perched side-by-side, chirping eagle-sweet-nothings, and then later carrying a large stick to somewhere off in the distance to the east where, perhaps, they were building a nest.

- Rich Guthrie

[I have noticed over the last decade or more, that eagle pairs have been starting their spring housekeeping at their nests earlier and earlier. It used to be early February; now it is not uncommon to see them fussing about in mid-to-late December. I'm sure they sense minute changes much better than we do. Climate change? Tom Lake.]

1/12 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: Even in an age of sophisticated electronic navigation, fog horns from commercial vessels could be heard all day on the river. The warm air created an eerie "moorish" fog that rose off the snow fields along the river.

- Tom Lake

1/12 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: After splitting black oak into firewood, I ended up with a nice pile of flat-headed grubs that had been hibernating under the bark of the wood. I made a nice grub pile on my driveway; about 30 minutes later a flock of eight robins found them and gobbled them all down. Another minute later, all were gone: grubs and well-fed robins.

- Andra Sramek

1/12 - Blooming Grove, HRM55: I had a red-winged blackbird at the bird feeder this morning and it has been back several times. It was strange to see the snow on the ground, dense fog surrounding our area, and a red-winged blackbird on the feeder. What season are we in?

- Carol Coddington

1/12 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Often in the past month the driveways and walks have been spattered with maple sap. All the twigs and limbs shattered by Hurricane Sandy were responding to the weather. If I planned to make syrup this year, the buckets would have been hung on New Year's Day. Yet, for many decades, local tradition was to tap on President's Day, more than a month later. Watching the ice go out in mist and fog, I wondered if I've blown my chances for this winter.

- Christopher Letts

1/13 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: This was day two of the great fog. The water was 34 degrees Fahrenheit and the air twenty degrees warmer. We could hear the clear sounds of geese, ducks, and freight trains but could see nothing beyond a hundred feet.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

1/13 - Westchester County, HRM 43: I was coming back from walking the dog at Mohegan Lake at O-dark-thirty in the morning and heard a familiar sound: spring peepers in my front yard!

- Marnie Miller-Keas

1/13 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: On my way back from the compost pile today, I was peering and peeking, looking at all the beds to see what has been fooled by the weather. Daffodils were up as much as ten inches, and some tender perennials never completely died back. The big surprise came as I was filling the bird feeders yesterday and saw that a dozen or more snowdrops were up and booming. Climate change?

- Christopher Letts

1/14 - Farmer's Landing, HRM 67: On day three of the big fog, it now threatened to lift. A huge and low-hanging fog bank obscured the river for more than two miles from Chelsea north to New Hamburg. Well above the fog, blue sky was developing. The fog bank in front parted just long enough for us to spot a large raft of common mergansers, no fewer than 75 birds. On one end was a pair of common goldeneyes and on the other end a lone canvasback. In that brief interlude when the fog parted, we thought that we counted a dozen bald eagles scattered along a mile of shoreline from Soap Hill upriver to Cedarcliff. Through the binoculars, however, the "birds" revealed themselves to be small patches of snow nestled in the hillside.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

1/14 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: In mid-afternoon the air temperature topped out at about 50 degrees F. With the snow melting and the soil not even close to being frozen, I finished planting my 60 hyacinth and 30 daffodil bulbs, all of which I meant to plant in October.

- Andra Sramek

1/14 - Fishkill, HRM 61: On this relatively warm January night (44 degrees F), while in my yard in a heavily wooded area of the town, I could hear the low hooting call of a great horned owl. It had been nearly 20 years since I have last heard the "Hoo Hoo Hoo, Hoo Hoo Hoo" in my neighborhood. A while later as I emerged from my vehicle, I saw a medium-sized, rufous-colored bird flying across the beam of my headlights. It flew in the fashion of a whippoorwill in pursuit of insects from the white pines adjacent to the driveway. But, being January, it was more likely an eastern screech owl.

- Ed Spaeth

1/14 - Bear Mountain Bridge, HRM 46: What a foggy morning! A unseen ship had been leaning on its horn for about ten minutes as it worked its way north under the Bear Mountain Bridge when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Glorious Morning, a 500-foot-long dry bulk freighter came ghosting out of the fog. I heard her continue to grope her way north through the Hudson Highlands for a long time afterwards.

- Scott Craven

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