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Hudson River Almanac January 22 - January 27, 2013

OVERVIEW

This week was highlighted by sub-freezing - in some places sub-zero - air temperatures. The river ice that had been filling the upper estuary now extended well into the Hudson Highlands and downriver. Eagle viewing was becoming much easier as the birds rode ice floes in the current.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/24 - Saw Kill, HRM 98.5: My son and I were hiking near the Saw Kill along the Rhinebeck and Red Hook town lines when we came upon tracks that looked like deer tracks, except they were about five to six inches long and about five inches wide, spaced about four to five feet apart. They were mixed in with a lot of deer tracks and generally followed a deer trail through the woods. My first inclination was moose. We had a moose come through Rhinebeck about twenty years ago. We searched for scat but lost track of the animal when the snow disappeared on a south facing slope.

- Ted Fink

[Ted's first inclination was correct. His digital photos clearly showed the tracks and trail of a moose. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/22 - Minerva, HRM 284: The air temperature was six below zero late this afternoon for a trip with the dogs to the back forty of our property. Predictions are for minus-fifteen by dawn tomorrow. We had two very dry and beautiful inches of snow last night, and I was hoping to find some tracks this afternoon. The best I could do was a fox track and the unmistakable tracks of our friends the wild turkeys. No sign of bunnies - snowshoe hare or cottontail. I think I would have headed farther off into the woods to find some low, dense balsams. If I was a bunny, that's where I'd be.

- Mike Corey

1/22 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: For several weeks I have been enjoying the hooded mergansers here. Now that the tidal strait has frozen completely, the birds were sheltering in Furnace Brook on the leeward side of Oscawana Island. There were three pairs this morning; the males looking gaudy and ready for spring with crests erect. [Photo of hooded mergansers courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.]

- Christopher Letts

Two male and two female hooded merganser ducks wading in the river.

1/22 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was cold and breezy this morning, a prelude of arctic weather for the rest of the week. Several bald eagles were sighted, in the air and perched. The resident red-tailed hawk was busy refurbishing its nest, bringing to it a variety of small to medium sized twigs.

- Christopher Letts

1/22 - Piermont, HRM 25: A report came in today from Lorri Cramer of the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society of a dead (cold-stunned) Kemp's ridley sea turtle that was found in the river here on December 15. There was a report of a suspected sea turtle near here last September, and that may have been this turtle. This was likely only the third record of a sea turtle in the estuary. The first occurred in 1995 and the next was in 2011. Both died from carapace damage caused by propeller strikes.

- Tom Lake

[In Archie Carr's The Windward Road, he speaks of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle: "Where the Florida Current picks up its supply of [Kemp's] ridleys is not known, for reasons that I shall reveal presently; but there can be little doubt that it is the northward sweep of this current just off the eastern shore that accounts for the occurrence in North Carolina and New York Harbor and Martha's Vineyard. Little as we know about ridleys, we can be sure that they are not born in those places. They are carried there."]

1/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It dipped down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit this morning under a stunning blue sky (Sky Blue if you want to pick right out of the Crayola crayon box). Nothing was stirring in the woods other than some tough and hardy little black-capped chickadees.

- Charlotte Demers

1/23 - Oscawana Island, HRM 39: Air temperatures began in the single digits and never made it out of the teens, so I was hoping that wintering eagles might seek open water in our area. In mid-morning I was thrilled to spot an adult bald eagle, its white face shining in the sun, on a branch overlooking the river at Oscawana Point. Upon closer observation, I noticed that an immature eagle was perched behind it on the same branch.

- Bob Ferguson

1/23 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Charlie Roberto once said that when the ice comes to the Croton reservoirs the eagles will show up at Croton Point. I walk my dogs every day at Croton Point and had not seen one eagle all year. After a day and night of frigid cold, I saw two adults and four immatures this afternoon. The two adults soared over the edge of the river ice. One dove, hit the water, and rose with a foot-long fish. The bird headed inland but out of nowhere four immatures appeared bombing the adult for the fish. The adult performed some acrobatics through the trees until he dropped the fish. On my way off the Point, a big and handsome coyote trotted out of the woods barely noticing me, capping a wonderful afternoon.

- Michael Grant

1/23 - Croton River, HRM 34: Wildlife at the Black Rock Park on the lower Croton River has recently included beaver, river otter, eagles, and a common loon.

- Guy Pardee

1/24 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: After a night of below zero temperatures, the tidewater tributaries were frozen bank-to-bank. They were empty. The action had shifted to the mainstem Hudson where ice floes spread across the river. A few eagles were scattered upriver and down, but not concentrated as they used to be when the Danskammer Point Power Generating facility was providing a steady flow of stunned fish from the warm-water outflow into the cold river water.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The Damskammer Point Power Generating Facility (built in the 1930s) has been retired and will be torn down in 2013. Danskammer Point, where the plant is located, has a long and interesting history. Archaeological evidence suggests that indigenous people (Algonquian speakers) were living there perhaps as long ago as 8,000 years. The name Danskammer is Dutch for "dance chamber." One night, on their voyage upriver in 1609, Henry Hudson's crew supposedly saw River Indians dancing around a fire at the site and thought they were looking at the "Devil's dance chamber." The Rose Brick Company was established there in 1884 and a lighthouse was constructed at Danskammer Point in 1885, later decommissioned in the 1920s. In 1984, a school of ladyfish, tropical relatives of the tarpon, were encountered at Danskammer Point, the only record of the species in the Hudson River. In recent times, it has been a common summer occurrence to see adult and immature bald eagles at Danskammer Point engaged in what seemed to be "lessons" on procuring food. The adults would dive into the warm water outflow of the facility and snatch a white perch. Seconds later an immature would mimic the adult, generally with much less success. Tom Lake.]

1/24 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67: It was chilly and dawn was breaking, but a beautiful sleek red fox kept to its appointed rounds as it made its way along the snow-covered ground skirting the old fieldstone wall in our back yard.

- Carol Pacilli

1/24 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I prefer the "winter blues" especially if they come in the form of winter bluebirds. I have eight to ten of these beauties that use their two nesting houses for warm, group sleep, heading in as the sun goes down (earlier on especially cold days such as we've been having).

- Nancy P Durr

1/24 - Peekskill to Croton Bay, HRM 43-34: I made the nine-mile shoreline "eagle run" this morning and counted only one bird, across the river from Verplanck on Stony Point

- Christopher Letts

1/24 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: There was floe ice Haverstraw Bay and Croton Bay was frozen over for the first time in several years. This was good news for local eagle watchers. We watched our resident male red-tailed hawk appear with a whole fish (species unknown) and present it to the female. She fed on the fish before he also fed on the fish. Checking under the feeding roost we found a rabbit's foot.

- Christopher Letts, Jim Bourdon

1/25 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: While walking in Salt Point near Wappinger Creek, my wife and I were treated to a beautiful sight: two adult bald eagles flying at treetop level, back and forth over the road and woods. One seemed in hot pursuit of the other: courtship!

- Bob Bowler

1/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: We awoke to the calls of black-capped chickadees singing "fee-bee." It gave us thoughts of spring. This was after enduring our second night of below zero temperatures. And finally: common redpolls have come to our feeders, mostly females, along with several white-throated sparrows.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

1/25 - West Point, HRM 52: I saw three adult bald eagles and a "brown" eagle that I took to be an immature bald eagle out over the river at noontime. They were down on the ice, close together, and then flew off as I got closer. I couldn't tell if they had taken a duck or not. I also photographed three gray geese, which I was unable to identify, in with a group of Canada geese.

- Doug Gallagher

[After much viewing and discussion of Doug's photo, and considering the likely possibilities of greater white-fronted, bean, or graylag goose, our bird experts were unable to come to a consensus of opinion. We will continue to mull this over, perhaps with the aid of some new photos. Eric Lind, Larry Federman, Rich Guthrie, Steve Stanne, Tom Lake.]

1/25 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: We have generally had a Carolina wren or two as yard and feeder birds all winter. The exception has been savage winters when they sometimes seem to disappear for a year or two, then rebuild their populations over time. This winter I have heard as many as three wrens singing and vocalizing at one time, and seen as many as half dozen in the vicinity of the feeders. This could be a result of last year's "non-winter." We enjoy these little bundles of energy.

- Christopher Letts

1/26 - Rhinecliff, HRM 88: Normally there is an eagle or two year around along the river or on the winter ice at Rhinecliff Landing. Today there were six adults and five immatures riding the ice floes. Some were close to open water while others were up on the ice. One adult in particular spent its time chasing other eagles from their chosen spots on the ice. No sooner did it drive away one bird, that it would fly to the next, chasing it, while another would come back to its original spot

- Dick Prenot

[Like most birds, eagles practice conservation of energy, especially in winter. They need to keep their "furnace" stoked and calories become precious. Wintering eagles on the Hudson have, for as long as there have been eagles and ice floes, used them as a means of transportation, much like moving walkways at airports. The drifting ice takes them past potential opportunities for fish and waterfowl with minimal energy expenditure. And once food has been secured, the floes offer a measure of security. Tom Lake.]

1/26 - Rhinecliff, HRM 88: I counted five bald eagles on the ice off Rhinecliff. In the foreground of one of the photos I took was the carcass of a small sturgeon, probably a shortnose given the location near their wintering area; the heterocercal tail was a giveaway.

- Scott Craven

[Spotting eagles on the river ice would seem to be simple; after all they are huge birds. However, many are seen at a distance and the perspective can diminish. An eagle a half-mile away on the ice may seem crow-sized. Therefore, developing your "sight image" is important. They grow in size through a spotting scope but since most observers use binoculars, expectations must be adjusted. Ten-power (10x) binoculars are a good choice for eagles viewing across the river's wide expanse. Tom Lake.]

1/26 - West Point, HRM 52: In late afternoon I spotted four eagles soaring over the north end of Constitution Island. Two of them stayed close together and, from my observation point, they appeared to be chasing each other. I assumed they were bald eagles, but in my photo they are all brown and one had a dark band visible at the end of its tail.

- Doug Gallagher

[Doug's photo showed that these were golden eagles. See his entry and sidebar from 1/20 at the same location. Tom Lake.]

1/26 - Putnam/Westchester Counties, HRM 51-34: We surveyed 21 miles of the east side of the Hudson River from Garrison south to Croton Point and then inland to the Croton Reservoir. We counted 55 eagles; many of them were concentrated in Peekskill Bay. There was also a collection of ten or so at Croton Reservoir. A Mearns Bird Club group that had started out earlier tallied 75. These eagles had apparently just arrived with the blast of cold arctic air, leading to the progressive freezing of lakes and ponds, and eventually, the Hudson. There is currently a very nice collection of waterfowl on the Croton Reservoir's south side, consisting of a few hundred birds, primarily hooded and common mergansers, gadwall, ruddy ducks, ring-necked ducks, and coot.

- John Askildsen, Kirsten Askildsen

1/26 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: The light snow that started falling last night created a glorious landscape this morning. It was strange to see it still snowing this morning, even though the sun was shining brightly. In the early afternoon we began a search for eagles, beginning with Steamboat Dock in Verplanck. We were so happy to see the beautiful adult that perches in the trees that overlooks the river. The white head and tail of the eagle shone in the sunlight, and it sat very still, oblivious to the people gaping at it with scopes and cameras. Another adult flew over from across the river, made graceful circles in the sky, and then landed somewhere on Dogan Point a mile south.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/27 - Tivoli Bays, HRM 100: My wife and I were hiking in Tivoli Bays in late afternoon when we saw a barred owl. We speculated that the owl was hunting at the edge of a clearing. It was the first owl my wife had ever seen in the wild.

- Steve Young

1/27 - Rhinecliff Dock, HRM 88: In midday there was a spectacular scene of broken ice of every size and shape, moving rapidly upriver with the last of the flood tide. As thin sheets of ice hit the dock, they splintered with cracks and pops, and sent pieces of clear ice skittering over the water-covered ice sheet. Much thicker chunks of ice were gathered along the shoreline. Far out I saw some large dark birds on the ice. With my monocular I was able to see two white heads, and then a broad white tail as one bird flew out and back over the ice floes - bald eagles taking an ice-ride.

- Alice McGovern

1/27 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: The iced-over Hudson River was singing today at Esopus Meadows. Not the cracking and groaning of the ice breaking, but a somewhat eerie sound, often quite loud, reminiscent of a sheet of metal set to vibrating.

- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

1/27 - West Point, HRM 51: I spotted a solitary male common goldeneye duck swimming in the river at the South Dock area of West Point. The goldeneye swam through a group of Canada geese, each species seemingly ignoring the other.

- Doug Gallagher

1/27 - Peekskill to Oscawana, HRM 43-38: Two adult bald eagles were perched on different branches in a tree at Oscawana Point, their colors vibrant against the clear midday sky. As a kayak passed by, one of the eagles flew out, circled over the river, and then headed back inland. Later in the afternoon from Charles Point we noticed a lot of ice on Peekskill Bay and four adult eagles out on the floes.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/27 - Westchester County, HRM 43-34: Twenty-one members of our bird club plus guests assembled on a beautiful day to tour and bird the Westchester County shoreline. Our total count included 21 eagles, five red-tailed hawks, one barred owl, three American coot, three American black ducks, a dozen buffleheads, eight common mergansers, a red breasted merganser, and many Canada geese, gulls, and double-crested cormorants. At the Croton Point campground, several members got a fast look at a coyote hunting on the landfill.

- Bob Rancan, Janet Rancan, Alec Malyon, Hillary Malyon

1/27 - Brooklyn, New York City: I witnessed an aerial battle between a red-tailed hawk and a common raven over Green-Wood Cemetery this morning. It lasted five to seven minutes, with the birds circling around each other and the hawk being the main aggressor, dive-bombing the raven. They worked their way south with a few vocalizations from the raven. This was my first sighting of a raven within the bounds of Brooklyn.

- Matthew Willis

1/27 - New York Harbor, Lower Bay: I led a seabirds and seals tour around New York for New York City Audubon. It was a relatively balmy and calm day, and low tide, which allowed for excellent views of sunning seals on the rocks of Swinburne Island. Bird highlights included large rafts of greater scaup, several buffleheads and common goldeneye, a couple of red-throated and common loons, northern gannets diving in the distance, and a first-winter Iceland gull hanging out with the herring and ring-billed gulls on Swinburne. There were also a couple of great cormorants, many fewer than the 20+ we had on last week's cruise. Where do they go?

- Gabriel Willow

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