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Hudson River Almanac January 28 - February 2, 2013

OVERVIEW

This was a week of eagles on ice floes, a report of an extremely rare bird, and a large "dog" harassing wild turkeys. These were mixed in with many quiet reminiscenses of the softer side of our natural world.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/2 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Planning in advance for winter bald eagle viewing here is a guessing game. If we guess wrong and there is not enough ice - or too much ice - the eagles will be elsewhere. We guessed pretty well today; the river was two-thirds ice with plenty of large rafts and floes moving slowly upriver at the start of the flood tide. Fifty-one of us endured eleven degree Fahrenheit windchills to aim our binoculars and spotting scopes on nine bald eagles, both adults and immatures, on the ice and in the trees across the river. We watched a pair of adults busily refurbishing their nest, carrying twigs and small branches. The 140-foot-long Coast Guard cutter Sturgeon Bay made two passes not 200 feet off the dock, breaking up the ice.
- Paul Lewis, Dave Lindemann, Tom Lake

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/28 - Columbia County, HRM 122: My dog, Loki, and I took a walk along the shore of the Kline Kill in Ghent. Loki appeared to be "walking on water" as he waded in the stream. I could see his paws as he pranced about on frozen chunks of ice beneath a top layer of water about an inch deep. The Kline Kill, a tributary of Kinderhook Creek, is formed by the confluence of the Punsit and Indian Creeks. The Kline Kill is often confused with the Klein Kill, a tributary of the Hudson River where it meets the Roeliff-Jansen's Kill farther south near Linlithgo. Most locals pronounce the Kline Kill as "Kly-nee-kill."
- Fran Martino

1/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: The Weather Channel could have saved the name for "Winter Storm Luna." A two-inch layer of new white snow was on the river, and the shoreline trees were coated with ice. Even in these times of climate change, it seems silly that such a soft and gentle snowfall can be called a winter storm. There were eagles on ice floes and eagles in the trees, a scene that has recurred every day recently.
- Tom Lake

1/28 - Peekskill, HRM 43: China Pier has always been one of my favorite places to see eagles, with the Hudson Highlands and the Bear Mountain Bridge in sight, and a ten-mile fetch to enjoy. The birds are not here when there is no ice, and that has been the case for a couple of years. Beginning this week, however, enough floe ice had accumulated and stabilized to attract the big birds, and this afternoon a dozen sat on the ice, singly and in groups of two or three. All but three were adults. This is perhaps the best place along the east side of the river to see interactions between eagles and with other birds.
- Christopher Letts

["Fetch" is a nautical and meteorological term usually used to describe an area of water over which wind can blow and strengthen unimpeded by islands, points of land, bends, or other obstacles. Tom Lake.]

1/29 - Kinderhook Creek, HRM 128: My walk at the Patchaquack Preserve in Valatie had me thinking I was in a lumber yard. Wood chips were everywhere; some caused by pileated woodpeckers, others the work of beavers. The trail swings close to Kinderhook Creek, which was flowing at a high velocity. I heard the familiar tail slap of the beaver as I approached the stream, and wondered about the strength it took for the beaver to swim in such fast-moving water.
- Fran Martino

1/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Eagle nest NY62 was active today and, as expected, the mated pair has chosen their existing nest for the upcoming season. The pair remained at the nesting site for over an hour. Finally, the male, in his usual squawking fashion, headed upriver. A short distance away at the New Hamburg Yacht club (HRM 67.5) I watched two adult and three immature bald eagles riding ice floes on a flood current. They would ride the ice from the mouth of Wappinger Creek north to the yacht club, a quarter-mile, and then fly back and do it all over again.
- Tom McDowell

1/29 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I just witnessed the oddest sight: Nearly a hundred snow geese in formation flew low under the clouds heading north along the river. They ought to have been foraging in the stubble of cornfields in Virginia or Maryland.
- Tom Lake

[While this sighting may have been an anomaly, it deserves some consideration. In the recent past, snow geese could be counted on quite reliably to return north around the vernal equinox (March 20). They would show up in riverside cornfields in Saratoga and Washington Counties and along the Hudson-Champlain Canal. It will be interesting to see if the pattern is changing. Tom Lake.]

1/29 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: In early afternoon at the top of the ebb tide, three adult bald eagles, well offshore, were riding ice floes slowly upriver. Much closer to shore, where the current had already changed, two more eagles, one adult and one immature, were riding ice floes slowly downstream. It looked strange to see these birds, quiet on the ice, heading in opposite directions.
- Tom Lake

["Mahicanituk" is a written approximation of an Algonquian word describing the Hudson that has been interpreted as meaning "river flows both ways." Since River Indians had only oral language, this word has been written with as many variations in spelling as in interpretation. The most common interpretation is that "flows both ways" refers to the four daily shifts in tidal current direction, two floods and two ebbs. But there is another interpretation that is never more obvious than with winter ice: As each tidal current slows, there is a brief period of time where the momentum associated with the volume of deep water takes longer to stop and turn than it does in shallow water where the lesser volume succumbs sooner. During that window today, the river and its ice flowed both ways, at once. Tom Lake.]

1/29 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: It had been some time since I last fished through the ice on Railroad Pond - almost two decades - and I walked onto the ice wondering what changes had occurred. Cutting my first line of holes near the dam, I noticed a green peeled stick frozen into the ice a few inches down. The finger-sized stick was cut at an angle on each end; it sure looked like the work of a beaver. Over the next hour I made my way toward the shallow end of the lake, and more sticks could be seen. There it was, a "live" beaver lodge, twenty feet in breadth, seven feet high, tucked up against a rocky headland (allowing no burrowing in from the back by predators), overhung by thick brush, and at a place where the old stream channel from Revolutionary War times had cut the deepest deep water for quick escape. Hundreds of peeled sticks of all sizes were strewn across the ice. This was a little wilderness experience only five minutes from the Hudson. Light was dimming as I walked off the ice with a full complement of dinner morsels; a full complement being all the fish I care to clean and am likely to eat at an evening meal.
- Christopher Letts

1/29 - George's Island, HRM 39: There was quite a difference in ice cover on the river below the Hudson Highlands. There was very little ice here and eagle activity was restricted to several perched immatures southwest of the boat ramp. Farther out in the river were some buffleheads that kept their distance, making photos difficult.
- Tom McDowell

1/29 - Stony Point, HRM 40: As the Rockland Audubon Society's recorder of rare and unusual birds, I received a report today from Doris Metraux: "This afternoon I was puzzled by something bright white in one of my shrubs. It was a white-winged junco (Junco hyemalis aikeni) giving me a frontal view. When he changed his location and briefly perched on a flowerbox I got a good look until one of the dark-eyed juncos became very belligerent and chased him away. He seemed quite a bit larger than the dark-eyed juncos, had a snow-white belly, a big bone-colored bill, black lores and was otherwise pale gray with a light brown wash on his back. He also had two very distinct wing-bars on each side."
- Carol Weiss

[In the 1970s the American Ornithologists' Union lumped what had been five species of junco, including the white-winged and our familiar slate-colored variety, into one - the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis). Other southwestern forms are lumped together as yellow-eyed juncos (Junco phaeonotus). Not all taxonomists are happy with the current classification scheme, however, and given the junco's taxonomic history - described in scientific papers as "turbulent" and "a nightmare" - it may change again. Steve Stanne.]

[I checked sources for previous county records. The Oregon and pink-sided subspecies have been recorded sporadically but I could find no previous records of the white-winged form. According to Bull's Birds of New York State (1998 edition; ed. Levine), there are no known records of the white-winged subspecies from New York State. Its winter range appears to be restricted to the Great Plains and adjacent mountain states. Levine does mention that approximately two to three percent of dark-eyed juncos have white on the wings, but still can be separated by size (white-winged is larger). Alan Wells.]

1/29 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 6: The Iceland gull previously reported was still present on the Central Park Reservoir this evening. It lingered at the periphery of a small flock of ring-billed and herring gulls. The vast majority of the remaining gulls took off for the night heading east and west.
- Nadir Souirgi

1/30 - Knox, Albany County, HRM153: With the temperature at 50 degrees F, a lone, shrill spring peeper was heard calling into the dark night on our beaver pond.
- David H. Nelson

1/30 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: It was an April-like day, with wind and some warmth (60 degrees F). And while the mild day loosened river ice, there was more if it; the tide was drawing floes from marshes, backwaters, and tributaries. Every open lead contained common mergansers with a few buffleheads and goldeneyes.
- Tom Lake

1/30 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Well after dark, following a wonderfully warm day, the fragrance of skunk was on the wind. The day had been a "wake-up" call and they were now out and about and up to no good.
- Tom Lake

1/30 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: While driving past the floodgate in Verplanck in extremely dense fog, I noticed a great blue heron on the edge of Lake Meahagh. He was standing on what was left of the ice, feathers soaked and head ruffled - a sentinel in the mist.
- Dianne Picciano

1/30 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: It was "thick o' fog" with visibility of less than 100 yards, but enough to see the water on Railroad Pond where I had ice fished less than 24 hours ago. The thought of a family of well-provisioned beavers snug in their lodge made me smile as I headed home to put more wood in the stove and enjoy this strangely weathered day. The back bay on Railroad Pond has another essential element: a deep bed of soil sediment deposited by the stream. That is where the beavers store their winter food, jamming the sharp ends of branches, leafy birch and alder, down into the mud, leaves waving in the light current.
- Christopher Letts

1/30 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: At least fifty Canada geese were making their way across the football field near the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, foraging in the grass at Inwood Hill Park. On the water were three dozen mallards. Starting up the trail through the Clove, I startled a pair of mourning doves and watched one black-capped chickadee at a little mesh feeder hung from a branch. Atop the ridge I saw no wildlife except gray squirrels and a mockingbird, who had found a few red berries. The only other color in the woods was moss and ground cover, small carpets of garlic mustard and ivy punctuated by tufts of wild chives, and one small holly, which, as always, "groweth green."
- Thomas Shoesmith

1/31 - Albany, HRM 145: I enjoyed walking along the river when the meteorological phenomenon called "graupel" occurs. Graupel is not exactly hail, and not exactly ice, but can be described as somewhere in between: Drops of water freeze on a falling snowflake, turning the flakes into something that looks like tiny styrofoam pellets. It is very bouncy and noisy as it falls to the ground.
- Fran Martino

1/31 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: It had snowed and a flock of more than a dozen wild turkeys that roost in the trees were acting befuddled. A few began to fly up into the trees and then we saw why. A healthy gray wolf was frantically trying to capture a wild turkey on the green of the adjoining golf course. It had stealthily crept near and whirled on a potential meal. Losing that one it spun around and tried for another but the birds scattered. We were enthralled with the spectacle. Other neighbors have reported seeing this animal recently.
- Diana Salsberg

[After investigating this sighting, all parties ultimately agreed that this was probably an eastern coyote. Two separate teams of researchers studying the genes of coyotes in the Northeast have reported evidence that these animals that have for decades been thought of as coyotes are in fact coyote-wolf hybrids. The team headed by Roland W. Kays, curator of mammals at the New York State Museum, studied coyotes from New Jersey to Maine. Jonathan Way, wildlife biologist with the Eastern Coyote Research consulting firm, examined coyotes around Cape Cod and Boston. Both teams found that the animals carry wolf and coyote DNA. The findings may explain why coyotes in the East like this one are generally larger than their western counterparts - that is, more wolf-like in size - and why they are so much more varied in coat color, as might be expected from a creature with a more diverse genome. As a result, we coyote fans like to refer to them as "woyotes." Tom Lake.]

2/1 - Orange County, HRM 67: We did not expect to see much this morning; the eagle viewing had been disappointing so far this winter. From New Hamburg we looked through binoculars across the river along the mile-and-a-half reach from Danskammer Point north past Soap Hill to Cedarcliff. Our glasses only reached Soap Hill where we stopped: nine adult bald eagles. That was not the most remarkable part of it. Those nine birds were all perched on less than an acre of hillside. We concluded that these were probably wintering birds from points north and east, eagles with no axe to grind regarding territory. That hillside might also be a night roost. Today they were perched out of the wind (a 20 mph bone-chiller), facing the morning sun.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/1 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: Following two days of strong west-northwest winds, we had a mini-blowout tide. The tide was noteworthy not so much for its "blowout" as it was for how long it stayed low - nearly two hours. Four wintering adult eagles were perched at Denning's Point with another adult and an immature across the bay and the mouth of Fishkill Creek at Hammond's Point.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Blowout tides occur when strong, sustained north/northwesterly winds push seawater away from Atlantic coast, temporarily lowering sea level off New York and therefore in the Hudson too - essentially the reverse of storm surge. These Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System graphs show water levels at Hudson River Park's Pier 84 in Manhattan, and corresponding wind direction and velocity data from Piermont about 20 miles north. Reading the wind graph like a compass, the wind shifted abruptly to northwest early on January 31, and then more northerly on February 1. It clipped the midday high tide peak on the 31st, and kept tides lower than usual well into the first of February. Steve Stanne.]

A chart showing a drop in water depth at Pier 84 in New York during January 30 unitl February 1.A chart displaying the quick changing wind speeds at Piermont Pier which were part of the reason for the blowout tide

2/1 - Hudson Highlands, HRM 47-35: An eagle census during my morning commute to work today produced more birds than any other morning this year: thirteen. They included one over Fort Montgomery, six on the ice at Annsville Creek, and one flying with a fish over Senasqua.
- Scott Craven

2/1 - Oscawana Point, HRM 38.5: I saw two beautiful adult bald eagles from the overlook at Oscawana. One was perched above the other, both enduring the blustery day, high above the whitecaps below.
- Dianne Picciano

2/2 - Tompkin's Cove, HRM 41: We saw six bald eagles, three adults and three immatures, near the old Mothball Fleet memorial. We saw thirty here two years ago but saw none last year. We are so happy they are back!
- Kristy Bartholomew

[The "Mothball Fleet," or U.S. Navy Reserve Fleet, consisted of a number of Liberty and Victory cargo and troop ships that were used during World War II to ferry supplies and soldiers to Europe for the war effort. Following the war they were decommissioned and, from 1946 to 1971, anchored in the Hudson at Tompkins Cove. Tom Lake.]

2/2 - Pleasantville, Westchester County, HRM 32: I was out with my dog near midnight. It had been snowing for a couple of hours, a dry snow that sparkled in the light. The cold night was hushed until I heard the deep hooting of a great horned owl coming from a neighbor's yard. This was only the second time in thirteen years that I've heard one. I went and got my sixteen-year-old so he could listen, too. Even the dog seemed to notice.
- Joe Wallace

2/2 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Our mid-day walk was uneventful until returning to our car at the small upper lot we noticed a crowd with cameras, long lenses on tripods, spotting scopes, and binoculars, staring up at one of the white pines. About twelve feet up on a branch, a barred owl was trying to ignore all the fuss.
- Stephen Butterfass, Ariel Butterfass

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