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Hudson River Almanac February 3 - February 9, 2013

OVERVIEW

A classic nor'easter lived up to its hype this week with heavy snowfall and winds reaching 80 mph, reminding us that hurricanes aren't the only coastal storms that pose threats along our coastal waters and estuaries. Areas east of the Hudson Valley - Long Island and New England - bore the brunt of this storm, but significant snow fell here too. The last big nor-easter to hit New York City occurred on February 12, 2006, when snowfall in Central Park measured 26.9 inches.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/5 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: After having just seen a captive golden eagle at the Bronx Zoo, it was a coincidence that today I should see a wild (and free) golden eagle perched in a tree alongside a small frozen stream past Tamarack and Bontecou Lake. Its golden head-nape was very distinctive, even from a distance. One of the local red-tailed hawks started buzzing around and the golden moved out, heading west.

- Deb Kral

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We finally had a lovely winter day after significant rain last week that dropped our snow cover to under a foot. The cold temperatures of the last few days have the lakes singing their amazing winter ballad. The groans, rumbles, growls and "whale song" babbles issuing forth are a wonder. The sounds the lakes and ponds emit during ice formation make them seem like living beings. The streams were running high after last week's rain and melt. The tannin-colored waters swirled around ice covered stones, the ruffled edges of which made the rocks look like they were dressed in white gowns with ice petticoats. There were lots of wildlife tracks in the snow: coyote, ermine, marten, fisher, mouse, shrew and grouse. There was even evidence that a beaver had come out from its lodge to supplement its food cache. Hopefully Punxsutawney Phil was wrong as I would love more days like this.

- Charlotte Demers

2/3 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: For the third time recently I spotted a raptor flying along the Route 9 corridor between Hyde Park and Staatsburg. I have been able to watch its flight for several moments while driving. The silhouette was accipiter, fairly large at a distance, and it had the "flap-flap-glide" flight pattern. The woods and fields in the area are promising grounds for a Cooper's hawk to hunt squirrels.

- Pat Joel

2/3 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Although the calendar said mid-winter, there were early seasonal changes in the air. In midday a huge flock of blue jays, at least 75 birds, came through, stopped long enough to inhale the black oil sunflower I had out, and then continued upriver. Their calls were deafening.

- Tom Lake

2/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was cold and spare this morning, not much moving, but the tracery of tracks in the new powder snow was suggestive of a busy night shift. Many coyote tracks led from one end of the Point to the other. At the end of my walk I was pleased to see an adult peregrine falcon come sailing in over the landfill to perch in a nearby tree. This was a handsome bird and perhaps the one I have seen a couple of times a week all season.

- Christopher Letts

2/3 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I spotted three eastern meadowlarks and counted 31 pipits on the cap of the landfill. The pipit flock has been around since late fall. Elsewhere on the Point, I came across a brown creeper, a red-breasted nuthatch, a perched and preening female merlin, and two bald eagles.

- Larry Trachtenberg

2/3 - New York Harbor, Upper and Lower Bay: I led our weekly Winter Eco-Cruise for New York City Audubon and we had a great day. In addition to the ever-popular harbor seals, we spotted both great and double-crested cormorants on Governor's Island, red-throated loon, gadwall, black duck, bufflehead, and red-breasted merganser in Erie Basin, common and red-throated loons off Bay Ridge, and big rafts of brant, long-tailed ducks, common goldeneye, and greater scaup near Hoffman Island. We also spotted three purple sandpipers on the rocks of Hoffman Island, and then had a close flyover by a razorbill near Swinburne Island.

- Gabriel Willow

2/4 - Chestertown, HRM 256: While I was traveling north on State Route 28N near midnight, a fisher went whipping across the road in front of my truck. It disappeared into the woods and was cooking along pretty well. The last time I saw a fisher, it was a roadkill in Newcomb, fifteen years ago.

- Mike Corey

2/4 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: Cardinals may be singing, goldfinches may be showing growing patches of yellow, hawks may be looking amorously at each other, but the surest sign of impending spring on this 28 degree Fahrenheit afternoon was the black vulture perched on top of St. Paul's spire.

- David Lund

2/4 - Croton River, HRM 34: There is always something worth looking at near the railroad bridge at the mouth of the Croton River. This morning we could just make out the shapes of a dozen Canada geese snoozing at the water's edge. With a little more light the shapes of common mergansers became apparent, and then black ducks and bufflehead started splashing in. A spotted sandpiper lighted for a moment, then skimmed away, identifiable by the peculiar wing-beat. Two dark shapes landed on the bridge superstructure, and "gronk gronk" told us the ravens had arrived. A kingfisher appeared in silhouette and landed in a waterside bush. Fish crows chased the ravens, a red-tailed hawk swept past, and a common loon could be seen fishing near and under the bridge. Eagles appeared, and for 40 minutes we watched as many as five at a time with much interaction, acrobatics and soaring. It was a nice beginning to the day.

- Christopher Letts, Gino Garner

2/5 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The river was once again awash in ice floes. An inch of fresh snow overnight, lightly settled on the ice, looked like confectioner's sugar. Three adult bald eagles were perched on Soap Hill and three more adults were on the ice, slowly moving upriver on the midday flood current. A small flight of male common mergansers sped past, looking like a formation of mini-rockets.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/5 - Harriman State Park, HRM 42: I received a photo today of a golden eagle feeding on a road-killed white-tailed deer near Lake Tiorati. This could have been one of the golden eagles recently seen near West Point and Storm King Mountain.

- Ed McGowan

2/6 - Kinderhook Creek, HRM 128: Another walk at the Patchaquack Preserve in Valatie brought us to an interesting tree along the stream bank. The tips of the branches had ice formations that look like crystal ornaments hanging on the tree.

- Fran Martino, Jennifer Lawrence

The slightly frozen Hudson River at Hudson, New York

2/7 - Schenectady, HRM 157: A team of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory scientists had been in Schenectady to test a new ice-imaging system for deployment on large transport aircraft in the polar regions. The plan was to test the equipment over the frozen surface of the Hudson River. With clear skies and cold temperatures (nine degrees Fahrenheit on the New York Air National Guard flight ramp) it was a perfect day to test our ice-imaging systems. Ice had settled in over the waterways with the drop in temperature the last few weeks and sections of the Mohawk River's falls at Cohoes were frozen in a frothy white. The Hudson was lined by frozen edges, with large ice floes closing over center sections of the water surface like layers of mica as they caught the light. [Photo of Hudson River at Hudson by Margie Turrin.]

- Margie Turrin, Lamont science IcePod team

2/7 - Cheviot, HRM 106: We counted more than a dozen bald eagles out on the ice feeding on a dead Canada goose. Bill Droege thought they were vultures at first, but then we saw that three of them had the adult bald eagle's white head and tail. Another was just getting its white head. The rest were immatures.

- Don Westmore

2/7 - Indian Point to Verplanck, HRM 42-41: We watched two adult bald eagles soaring high on the thermals near Indian Point. There was also one adult in the "ghost tree" near Steamboat Dock and one sub-adult in a nearby tree, his body still mottled brown and white and his head and tail a dirty white.

- Dianne Picciano, Kay Martens

["Ghost tree" is a designation given to a tall hardwood that sits a few hundred feet back from the river's edge in Verplanck. River watchers looking toward the Hudson have the tree at their back. Then, as if by ghostly magic, an eagle will slip unheard and unseen into the canopy of the tree. Tom Lake.]

2/8 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The vanguard of a major winter storm was advancing minute by minute; by late in the day the sky was leaden, the air temperature was dropping, and the scent of snow was in the air. The ice on the river had settled quietly out in the ebb tide - its "music" muted. I counted seven eagles across two miles of shoreline, all perched still. It seemed like the river was just waiting.

- Tom Lake

2/9 - Minerva, HRM 284: The winter storm left us eight inches of snow - dry snow, not at all unpleasant. This afternoon I was out for only the third time over the winter on my old waxy cross-country skis, heading down to the swamp with the dogs. It was great skiing for sure. Other than deer, about the only other tracks we ran into were those of snowshoe hare that had been out and about earlier in the day.

- Mike Corey

2/9 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: In the biting teeth of the storm, we watched an immature eagle glide upstream over a frozen expanse of tidewater. It flew with its head canted downward, looking for open water and finding none. The scores of common mergansers wintering in the creek had left for open water elsewhere. While eagles generally have little difficulty finding food in winter, sometimes it just takes a bit more effort.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

2/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In the wake of the nor'easter (thirteen inches of snow) I thought it would be a good idea to supplement the feeders by sprinkling a generous dose of black oil sunflower seed on the ground. From out of the woods came no fewer than four pairs of cardinals, a dozen white-throated sparrows, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, and more juncos than I could count. All went well for a short time until another wave of blue jays, nothing less than an invasion (see 2/3), landed under the feeders. A quick count numbered 30. The other birds scattered quickly and soon all of the sunflower seed was gone.

- Tom Lake

2/9 - Tomkin's Cove, HRM 41: It was dusk when the eagles began to show up. We counted at least 50 birds, three-quarters immatures, and it was spectacular. They swooped and fished and chased each other. We watched for about an hour until it was dark.

- Kristy Bartholomew

[Kristy's birds were very likely queuing up before heading to a nearby night roost in the lower Hudson Highlands. To keep their "furnace" stoked all night, they load up with calories from a final meal just before heading inland for the night. Tom Lake.]

2/9 - Verplanck to George's Island, HRM 41-39: After almost a foot of snow had fallen overnight, we went out in the afternoon in search of eagles. Our first one, an adult, was perched at Oscawana. At Verplanck we counted six more, swooping and dipping over the water. At George's Island we found three, an adult and two immatures, perched on Dogan Point. Just before we left, we had our best surprise: a dozen bald eagles flying in circles over the cove. One snatched a fish from the water and the others followed it around. Our total count may have been as many as eighteen.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/9 - Manhattan, HRM 5: The nor'easter left 11.4 inches of snow in Central Park.

- National Weather Service

2/9 - Long Island: Dave Taft had 24 inches of snow at East Northport and John Waldman reported 28 inches at Stony Brook. Those totals were dwarfed by the 38 inches that fell in Milford, Connecticut.

- Tom Lake

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