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Hudson River Almanac February 24 - February 28, 2013

OVERVIEW

Among the many signs of spring noted this week, we took particular notice of two: the first glass eels arrived in the estuary from the sea, and Hudson Valley bald eagles began incubating their eggs.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/26 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The Groundwork Yonkers Science Barge has been checking an "eel mop" in the mouth of the Saw Mill River for almost two weeks and today they shook out the first glass eel of the season, one perfectly transparent slithering sliver of life, which we cradled briefly on a Yonkers street corner, then slipped back into the chilly Saw Mill. Here they come!

- Chris Bowser, Bob Walters

Transparent baby American eels in the palm of somebody's hand

[Freshwater eels have survived global cataclysms for millions of year but now some populations appear to be diminishing - even disappearing - worldwide and scientists are not quite certain why. While American eels are considered freshwater fish, they are born at sea and many of them spend much of their lives in tidewater. Glass eels are one of the juvenile life stages of the American eel. They arrive by the millions in the estuary each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the greater Sargasso Sea area where they were born. Glass eels lack pigment and are nearly transparent. This is a particularly vulnerable time for them and little is known about this period in their life history. In anywhere from 12-30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea where they will spawn once and then die, or so we think. Tom Lake. Photo of glass eels by Chris Bowser.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/24 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: This morning I literally drove over a curb while watching a peregrine falcon on a horizontal beam at the top of an electric utility pole on the west side of Route 9, beside a large undeveloped grassy, marshy area. I recognized the large black spot below its eye. I saw my first peregrine more than 20 years ago on a birding trip near Manahawkin, NJ. It was a life bird for most of us on the trip

- Phyllis Marsteller

2/24 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I had to swerve to avoid hitting a red-tailed hawk that was having a feast right in the middle of Route 299 just past Humpo Marsh. Upon my approach the hawk held up its wings and stretched out its tail feathers as if in preparation for flight. This gave me a perfect view of its red tail. However, I could not see what it had been eating. I presume that if it was road-kill, it must have been fresh. Upon my return an hour later, both hawk and carrion were gone.

- Annell Presbie

2/25 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: I heard my first song sparrow singing in my swampland this morning. It seemed a little early for them, but a welcome sound to my ears. Also the cardinals were singing in full force along with Carolina wrens. It almost sounded like a spring morning.

- Kathy Kraft

2/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I arrived at our observation post for eagle nest NY62 in mid-morning and found the male perched in a tree not far from the nest and the female sitting in the nest. The female remained in the nest during the entire eight hours that we watched. At times she seemed to strike a pose that might have indicated egg-laying.

- Tom McDowell, Terry Hardy

Two male green-winged teal wading in the Hudson River

2/25 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I spent two hours today near New Hamburg and part of that time I watched an adult and an immature eagle playing tree tag along the creek. A few gorgeous green-winged teals flew in to join some mallards that were only thirty feet away. Out on the river I counted at least four adults and four immature eagles on ice floes. [Photo of two male green-winged teal by Terry Hardy.]

- Terry Hardy

2/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Black-oil sunflower seed is a magnet for cardinals. Not long after liberally sprinkling a pound of seed beneath the thistle feeders, they came. At one point we counted ten male cardinals perched in a small magnolia tree in the fading evening light, looking like a string of red Christmas bulbs. Two or three more were in the edge of the woods and several more were actively engaged in the seed. There seemed to be fewer than half that number of females.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

2/25 - New Windsor, HRM 60: My little suburban yard was quite suddenly full of an explosion of birdsong: cardinals, mourning dove, tufted titmouse, blue jays, sparrows, plus many other "cheeps and tweets" that I didn't recognize. It was a lovely noise. After dark, I was surprised to see two rather large cottontail bunnies on a neighbor's lawn where the snow had melted away. Signs of spring? I hope so.

- Joanne Zipay

2/25 - Peekskill to Poughkeepsie, HRM 44-76: I headed up the river on Metro North for the first time this winter and it was a beautiful clear morning for spotting eagles. The first ones appeared along with the first ice floes in Peekskill Bay, where two adults and three immatures held council on the ice. Another adult floated on an ice floe in the shadow of Storm King Mountain, and two more adults swooped by as we approached Beacon. By New Hamburg, the Hudson was almost entirely frozen over and one adult and one immature sat together in the middle of the river. Just past New Hamburg, before we reached Poughkeepsie, two adult eagles and one immature swooped directly over the train, making a baker's dozen for the day.

- Ann Pedtke

2/26 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: A cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii) was reported this morning in New Baltimore.

- Richard Guthrie

[The newly recognized cackling goose is a smaller version of the Canada goose. Formerly considered the smallest subspecies of one variable species, recent work on genetic differences found the four smallest forms to be very different. These four races are now recognized as a full species: the cackling goose. It breeds farther northward and westward than does the Canada goose. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.]

2/26 - Saugerties, HRM 102: One first-of-season American woodcock was heard briefly vocalizing this evening in the hay fields at the northern end of the Town of Saugerties/Ulster County. Last year I heard three first-of-season woodcock in these same fields one day and two minutes later. Last year, aerial courtship displaying followed fifteen minutes after the first vocalizations. This year there was no displaying and only a few "peent" calls from one lone individual. Considering the disparity between weather and field conditions this year compared to last year's exceptionally mild season, the similarly in first detection dates is quite remarkable.

- Steve M. Chorvas

2/26 - Millbrook to Pleasant Valley, HRM 82-75: Along the way today in my travels, I counted a total of eleven black vultures and one turkey vulture.

- Adrienne Popko

[Black vultures have become quite common in the Hudson Valley and turkey vultures are so common they rarely invoke a mention. However, within the lifetimes of more senior birders, the presence of both species was noteworthy, per these excerpts from the Auk 55: 521-522, July 1938, published by the American Ornithologists' Union:

Black and Turkey Vultures in Westchester County, New York: On the afternoon of May 7, 1936, following a week of steady southerly winds, I observed a Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) near the town of North Salem, at the northern end of Westchester County. More interesting than the addition of another record of the Black Vulture to the very few existing for the State (where it is regarded as accidental or casual by Chapman), has been the phenomenal increase of Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura septentrionalis) in this county during the last decade. Until recent years the species was known from the region by only one record, in 1922. My first was in June, 1925. Since then the bird has become ever more frequently observed in northern Westchester County, until now it must be considered a common transient. Charlton Ogburn, Jr., Salem Centre.]

2/26 - Westchester County, HRM 44: I was driving in North Salem and caught sight of something very white in a tree. Was it snow? No, it was a leucistic red-tailed hawk that lives in the area. I've seen this bird before but this was the first time it stayed still long enough for a photo.

- Irene Marks

[Leucism is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird's feathers. As a result, the birds do not have the normal, classic plumage colors listed in field guides, and instead the plumage has several color changes, including: white patches where the bird should not have any; paler overall plumage that looks faint, diluted or bleached ; overall white plumage with little or no color discernible. Leucism affects only the bird's feathers, and typically only those with melanin pigment - usually dark feathers. Birding.about.com]

2/26 - Central Park, HRM 6: I found a first-winter-to-spring black-headed gull on the north end of the Central Park Reservoir today. It was mixed in with a dense group of ring-billed gulls resting on the exposed causeway not ten yards from the pump house. This is possibly the same one found recently by Tom Fiore, but definitely a separate bird from the one found by Ken Shama about a month earlier, which was a non-breeding adult. Today's gull had dark red legs and a dark red bill that was blackish at the tip. It also showed brownish secondary coverts on folded wings. The head was not in moult and had ear spots and two blackish bands across the head. Gull numbers on the Reservoir were up; I estimated there were four to five thousand birds.

- Nadir Souirgi

2/27 - Columbia County, HRM 104: While in the Weed Mines area at Taconic State Park, I flushed an American woodcock. This is the first woodcock I've seen this year.

- Jesse Jaycox

2/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie: A nor'easter brought more than an inch or rain overnight and into the day. While the sides on eagle nest NY42 had been raised several inches during recent renovations, I could still see from an elevated vantage the female (N42) hunkered down, enduring the cold rain. She was incubating at last.

- Tom Lake

[Thus began Year 13 for this mated pair of bald eagles. Nesting has been successful in seven out of the last twelve years, producing eleven fledglings. Last year they began incubating on February 28 (their twelve-year average is about March 1). With good fortune and reasonable weather, we should have a hatch in 32-35 days (the 2012 hatching occurred in 31 days). Tom Lake.]

2/27 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 67: I noticed in open grassy areas an emergence of springtails (snow fleas). There had to be several hundred thousand per acre.

- Tom McDowell

2/27 - Peekskill Bay, HRM 43: I counted six eagles in several locations before I reached China Pier on the south side of Peekskill Bay. All floe ice had disappeared but the eagles were still present. There were eight more in Peekskill Bay; seven immatures and one adult had usurped the navigation tower, usually covered with cormorants. The adult held the top of the tower, and the young birds alternately perched on the rocks at the base or made short forays close to the water. The several dozen cormorants, both double-crested and great cormorants, seemed a little nervous as the eagles flew over them repeatedly, but the eagles seemed more interested in fish. One bird, a third-year "white extreme," with more white than brown, took what seemed to be a small fish under ten inches long, and flew off to eat it on the shoreline dock. In the fifteen years I have watched winter birds here, this is just the second time I have seen eagles on the tower.

- Christopher Letts

[White extreme is a color phase described for some three year-old bald eagles. As immature eagles approach adulthood, their plumage eclipses from mostly brown, to mottled brown-and-white, to a showy-white display with some brown (white extreme), to the final white head and tail of the adult. Peter Dunne.]

2/28 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Heading west on Route 299, just past the Wallkill River in New Paltz, I spotted a bald eagle at the top of a tree. It stayed atop the tree moving its head back and forth, scanning the ground, even though several cars had stopped to watch it. Last year a bald eagle visited this tree and was seen over the course of three days. Since then I'd been on the lookout. Perhaps this was it.

- Annell Presbie

2/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 2 of incubation was a better one than Day 1. The female was sitting up a little higher in the nest (NY62). For a half hour we watched a steady procession of high-flyer Canada geese heading north in the blue sky. A few of the half-dozen flocks flew close enough to each other to appear that they were exchanging members - probably an illusion.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/28 - West Point, HRM 51: Along the river at the South Dock area today I spotted a banded ring-billed gull. It was a blue plastic band with white lettering "UT" on the gull's right leg and a small metal band on its left leg. Later, in the same area I saw a pair of killdeer.

- Doug Gallagher

2/28 - Orange County, HRM 46: A pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus), first reported two days ago by Ken McDermott and Curt McDermott, was relocated today in New Hampton, Wawayanda.

- Rob Stone

2/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34: As the morning brightened, birdsong was rife; red-winged blackbirds and cardinals, mourning doves and titmice, song sparrows and Carolina wrens all gave voice. I checked on the nesting red-tailed hawks. As I watched, one of the pair came out of the nest tree and stooped on the dozen mallards swimming and feeding in a shallow puddle nearby. Thirty seconds of squawking and flaring wings and water splashing, and it was over. The hawk returned to its perch, the ducks settled down to preen.

- Christopher Letts

2/28 - Brooklyn, New York City: This morning, while workers were repairing the new artificial soccer fields on Pier 5 in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park (the bright green artificial turf had been blown up at its edges by winter winds), I watched a pair of red-breasted merganser shielded from the wakes of ferries in the cove between Pier 5 and the as-yet-un-remodeled Pier 6. I had never seen red-breasted mergansers in the area before.

- Robert Sullivan

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