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Hudson River Almanac February 17 - February 23, 2013

OVERVIEW

This week, many of our female Hudson Valley bald eagles will be laying eggs. If the eggs are viable and both parents pay close attention to incubation, the eggs will hatch in about 32-35 days. This is an extremely vulnerable time for the adults since one or the other must stay on the eggs. Therefore, encroachment into areas around nest trees becomes a very big concern. We are already hearing of eagle-watchers walking up to nest trees for a close-up look or the perfect photograph. Besides being in violation of both state and federal law, it can lead to abandonment of the nest. Eagles will leave eggs to die and nestlings to starve if they feel their lives are in danger. Those of us who love eagles must stay at least 200 feet away, preferably farther, from nest trees. It is the job of our binoculars, spotting scopes, and telephoto lenses to bring us close to the birds.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/17 - Columbia County, HRM 124: My first sighting of the piebald white-tailed deer (now known as "Blanco" in my typical fashion of anthropomorphizing creatures) was reported in the Hudson River Almanac on January 17. Since then, I've gone back to that special place in the woods several times hoping for another look. One month later to the day, at almost the same time and location, Blanco appeared. The deer was bounding with all four feet off the ground looking very "Casper-like."

- Fran Martino

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Today I treated myself to a visit, at a distance, to the mated pair of bald eagles in nest NY62. We watched the female pull up grass and fly to the nest several times - soft material that will become the cup that holds the eggs. I was so thrilled to be able to sit and watch them.

- Sheila Bogart

2/17 - Peekskill, HRM 44: While I was watching two immature eagles on an expanse of very flat ice on Peekskill Bay, a third immature flew into my spotting scope image carrying a freshly-dead black duck in its talons. The other two immediately tried to steal the meal. Why the duck-carrier chose to set down right next to two apparently hungry birds was a mystery. After a minute or two of hopping around, the original two left the hunter alone. He shredded and ate the duck in minutes with a cloud of black feathers flying downwind.

- Peter Schechter

2/18 - Selkirk, HRM 135: Out at the woodshed this morning just before first light the thermometer read ten degrees Fahrenheit. It was bitter cold. The only sounds I could hear were the trees groaning as the wind howled.

- Roberta S. Jeracka

2/18 - Millbrook, HRM 82: The season didn't seem right, but there it was, a northern harrier cruising low over snow-covered cornfields, being pursued by crows. The crows were no match for the harrier in speed but may have been enjoying the chase.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

2/18 - New Paltz, HRM 78: This afternoon I went walking along the west side of the Wallkill River looking for animal tracks in the snow. I found lots of them, including skunk, coyote, fox, raccoon, white-tailed deer, squirrel, and most interestingly, river otter. At one point I paused to enjoy the wider scenic view across the river and there, in the river, was an otter live and in person. It dove, showing its long body and tapering tail. Although I waited and looked up and down the river for ten minutes, I did not see it come up again.

- Lynn Bowdery

2/18 - Putnam County, HRM 57: I saw a little brown head bobbing around by the base of a huge black locust in Copperhead Cut on East Mountain today - my first chipmunk of the year. It popped its head out to grab some of the bird seed I'd left. A mockingbird has been delighting me by visiting the bird feeder daily.

- Connie Mayer-Bakall

2/19 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I had an amazing experience this morning. While driving to work and waiting to turn onto Route 9, an adult bald eagle flew right in front of my car. It couldn't have been more that fifteen feet off the ground as it swooped low and then went high, crossing Route 9 to land in a pine tree. He sat there for five minutes as three crows pestered him.

- Cathleen Greenan

2/19 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: I have not seen any red-winged blackbirds yet, but we have had our first common grackles.

- Betsy Hawes

[Flocks of migrating blackbirds usually include red-wings, common grackles, brown-headed cowbirds, occasionally rusty blackbirds, and even starlings, although they are not truly blackbirds. When they arrive in flocks of hundreds, they are a never-failing sign of imminent springtime. Tom Lake.]

2/19 - Palisades, HRM 23: Red-winged blackbirds had returned to the marsh at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. A small group of three robins also stopped for a visit.

- Linda Pistoles

2/20 - Columbia County, HRM 114: From the Rip Van Winkle Bridge I could see a cluster of huge black birds hovering around something on the ice of Hallenback Creek. A short time later, after a walk through the snow, I trained my binoculars on the birds again - three immature bald eagles scavenging a white-tailed deer carcass. The ice was thick so I went for a walk, thinking back to the last time I had been on this creek, a small Hudson River tributary on the backside of Rogers Island. It was fifteen years ago and I was in the company of Christopher Letts and legendary riverman Everett Nack. We were ice fishing and telling tall tales. Everett promised us a five-gallon bucket full of yellow perch so large their tails would stick out the top. After a few hours we had one, of a size that I could have stuck in my pocket. But it was the place, the season, and the company that made the day special, not the fish that managed to elude us.

- Tom Lake

2/20 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Negotiating the ice on the lower Esopus Creek above tidewater can be tricky. The look of the ice, the apparent strength, can be deceptive. Due to water releases upstream from Ashokan Reservoir, the underside of solid-looking ice can be compromised in a short period of time, rendering it dangerous. It sure looked good today, however, so I inched my way across the creek to a backwater bay, out of the current, that had nine inches of hard ice. The fishing was very good with a dozen or so large, slab-sided bluegills - when they get to be nine inches long, anglers say that they have "shoulders." The price to pay on this morning was a brutal northwest wind and frigid air temperatures that combined for a nine degree Fahrenheit windchill.

- Tom Lake

2/20 - Peekskill to Oscawana, HRM 44-39: We set out today from our home in Cornwall-on-Hudson to investigate the many eagle reports we had read about in the Hudson River Almanac. It was a very cold and windy day with gusts to 35 miles per hour. At Oscawana Island we saw an adult and an immature in the trees at the south, or leeward, side of the point. Just upriver at Charles Point, we counted nine eagles, mostly immatures, out on the ice in Peekskill Bay. At Annsville Creek Preserve we were greeted by another ten eagles, more than half of which were immatures. They were very busy fishing and then chasing birds lucky enough to have caught a fish. It was quite a sight!

- Robert Anderson, Lauren Anderson

2/20 - Westchester County, HRM 51: Waterfowl sightings today in Somers included four male wood ducks following two females, both hooded and common mergansers, common goldeneye, ring-necked ducks, bufflehead, American coot, mute swan, mallards, black ducks, and more than one hundred Canada geese.

- Anne Swaim

2/20 - Crugers, HRM 39: There were whitecaps on the river and the water reflected back as silver. An adult bald eagle was perched on a branch over the water at Oscawana Point. What seemed like a larger eagle with a mottled white head and tail - an "almost adult" - was perched on a branch above it.

- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: It is not uncommon this time of the winter to see a mated pair of red-tailed hawks or bald eagles engaged in aerial courtship behavior. So we were only mildly surprised to watch a pair of Cooper's hawks similarly involved overhead, with soft body bumps, wing touches, and shadowing in flight.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

An immature bald eagle landing on chunks of ice on the Hudson River

2/22 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: We could feel the strength of the late winter sun both in intensity and duration. The ice on the river, now fully fragmented into millions of floes, was in its last days. We watched a pair of adults and one immature eagle not far offshore feeding on fish on an ice floe holding steady in the slack tide at the mouth of Wappinger Creek. Looking into the background to the western side of the river, nearly a mile away, we counted seven more eagles perched on the hillside. It will not be long before the wintering birds leave for their nesting grounds to the north and east. [Photo of immature bald eagle by Terry Hardy.]

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/22 - Brewster, HRM 56: Traveling westward on Interstate 84, I counted eleven red-tailed hawks perched in trees at all levels. Two were sitting side-by-side in a tree at the edge of a pond. They looked so peaceful, and very sweet. A little farther along, I spotted a huge flock of blackbirds at the side of the road and at the edge of a field.

- Connie Mayer-Bakall

2/22 - Fishkill Creek, HRM 60: I watched six large carp, estimated at 20-30 inches long, lurking in a large shallow pool just below the Tioranda Falls at Madam Brett Park. They were bunched up closely together, very slow moving, but not completely stationary.

- Jerry Goodman


2/22 - Constitution Island, HRM 52: While we were looking for wood duck boxes to repair on Constitution Island, we came across a snapping turtle hibernating under the ice in a non-tidal swamp in the interior of the island.

- Marnie Miller-Keas

2/23 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: The usual feeder visitors were busy today: chickadees, tufted titmice, pine siskins, juncos, and white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches. Less common of late have been cardinals and mourning doves, and I haven't seen any blue jays for a while. What got my attention today was a northern flicker. I watched as it perched on top of a railing for several minutes, warily looking around, before it finally decided it was safe to hop down and start attacking the suet feeder. That big, long bill was put to aggressive use, ripping chunks out of the suet that the bird then tossed down. It fed for several minutes before flying off. We've had hairy, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers show up before, but this was only the second time I've seen a flicker at the feeder.

- Larry Roth

2/23 - Saugerties, HRM 102: More than a dozen of us hunched over our buckets in a steady, cold rain for the love of possibly catching small fish through holes in the ice. Ice fishing is not for everyone. While the ice was still nine inches thick, not 30 feet away along the shore the water was open around a beaver lodge. Every half hour the occupant would surface at the edge, look us over, and then dive back inside. Our final tally was 50 panfish highlighted by a gorgeous red-breast x bluegill sunfish hybrid. Once we had all the pleasure we could endure, we left the ice. To onlookers from the village park, the several inch accumulation of rain gave the illusion that we all were walking on water.

- Bob Schmidt, Tom Lake

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