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Hudson River Almanac March 1 - March 5, 2013

OVERVIEW

A parting of the ways had begun for both eagles and geese. The local birds were either nesting or preparing to nest, and the winter birds were pushing upriver, slowly in the case of eagles, in huge flocks for geese.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/5 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I heard a loud series of vocalizations on the south side of the Point out over the river and a mob of nine eagles swept in and landed in the conifer grove. Everything from first year birds to adults seemed present, and the squabbling continued, all of this less than one hundred yards from where I stood. One of the younger birds had a squirrel. In the thick conifer cover it was not easy to tell who was doing what to whom, just a mob of very noisy eagles. I later saw three more on the lower Croton River, and two others were soaring high above Peekskill Bay, for a total of fourteen eagles.

- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/1 - Dutchess County, HRM 86: Today was a good old-fashioned March day: partly-to-mostly cloudy, a blustery northwest wind, and air temperatures in the 30s. But it was a very good day for bald eagles. Mated pairs were incubating in three local nests: one in a reliable nest near the river; another in a new nest on the west side of the river that had replaced a recently-abandoned nest; and the third in a brand-new nest in the northern Wappinger watershed.

- Dave Lindemann

3/1 - Ulster County, HRM 66: I heard several red-winged blackbirds calling in Clintondale today.

- Jesse Jaycox

3/1 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It began at first light and continued until midday, an almost unbroken procession of high-flyers. As far as I could tell, they were all Canada geese moving north into a quartering wind.

- Tom Lake

[We call them "high-flyers" because that is, indeed, what they do. Skeins of migrating geese, Canada and snow, miles high, strung out in Vs and large check-marks, always in flux, birds constantly changing their position in the geometrics of the sky. It always reminds me of volleyball team players switching after every point. Tom Lake.]

3/1 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: Two dozen ring-billed gulls were having a feeding frenzy on something at the mouth of the creek this afternoon at the top of the flood tide. The object of their appetite was small enough that when they dipped their bills in the water they came up with nothing I could see with ten-power binoculars. I assumed they took it and swallowed it in one gulp. Some of the gulls just sat on the water and helped themselves while others swooped and dipped up their choice morsel. I could see nothing in the water. At least one fish made a strike at the surface at something while I was watching. Could it be glass eels that they are feeding on? If not, then what?

- John Gebhards

[This is a real puzzler. The season is early for the numbers of glass eels that might elicit such a feeding foray; we also tend to think of glass eels as night travelers. The cold, late-winter water would also seem to conspire against schools of killifish or spottail shiners. Gulls also tend to be scavengers, feeding on the remnants of predatory fish attacks on forage species. This mysterious behavior was repeated on March 4. Tom Lake.]

A perched adult eastern bluebird poses for an upclose camera shot

3/1 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 59: My bluebird nest boxes were busy with males calling for a mate from the roof tops. I suspect nest building will begin in the next few weeks. A dozen have wintered over and a brood of six had remained together. I will spend this weekend inspecting, cleaning and restoring their nest boxes. There great neighbors; they control my insects, provide a pleasant atmosphere and are all snoring by 9:30 PM.

- Tom McDowell

[I started putting up bluebird houses twenty years ago when my children were involved in a Bluebird Trail school project for the Sprout Creek Farm. Tom McDowell. Photo of eastern bluebird by Jake Dingel/Pennsylvania Game Commission.]

3/1 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Facing south and nestled into the shelter of the chimney corner, two purple crocuses bloomed today.

- Christopher Letts

3/2 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: My granddaughter and I saw a large, solid white bird in a tree this evening. When we went back it had moved to another tree near Wappinger Creek. Then it flew away like a hawk. The wings were totally white and might have been a little tan in the tail

- Nancy Clancy

[This was another leucistic red-tailed hawk (see 2/26 Westchester County). Nancy had inquired about this bird a week ago following a brief sighting. Tom Lake.]

3/2 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 75: While standing in the shopping center parking lot I noticed a flock of blackbirds wheeling above, all in synch - flap two three, glide two three. Suddenly a second flock appeared over the roof of a grocery store. The two flocks merged. For a couple of seconds all was chaos, flapping and gliding randomly. Then the whole combined flock began anew their synchronized ballet - flap two three, glide two three. After a minute of this cooperative behavior, they all landed, either exhausted or complimenting themselves on a fine performance.

- Charlie Steiner

3/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: Lately, we've come to call our yard "Juncoville" due to the dozens of spritely little guys who are calling our place home this winter, along with all the customary winter birds: titmice, cardinals, chickadees, blue jays, Carolina wrens, and downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers. There is also a mockingbird as well as goldfinches, numerous sparrows and even a northern flicker that hops around under the feeders. All winter long, we've had two stalwart red-winged blackbirds hanging out at our feeders as well. Today, there were six accompanied by two scurrying chipmunks. More and more of the birds are breaking out in song, too - all sure signs of spring.

- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart

3/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Where I saw a dozen red-winged blackbirds yesterday, today there were a hundred. In subtle, no-big-deal ways, the changing season manifests itself. A few robins were picking around a rain puddle, skirmishers in advance of the flocks that will be here in a month. I see a few more mourning doves, a few more mockingbirds, and several more grackles each day.

- Christopher Letts

3/3 - Greenport, Columbia County, HRM 119: High atop an old silo left behind from a once active farm sat two turkey vultures. I've seen turkey vultures at this silo many times, and often wondered if they use the silo as a place to incubate their eggs. After all, it is March that marks the return for many of these birds from their southern wintering locations, and the beginning of the breeding season for vultures.

- Fran Martino

3/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie: An inch of overnight snow had the eagle nest looking like a powdered donut. Within an hour it had all melted away to reveal the male sitting on the eggs. They had made the early-morning changeover before I arrived and the female was now out stretching her legs and hunting for a meal.

- Tom Lake

[While we frequently describe activities at eagle nest NY62, it is only one of probably more than two dozen active bald eagle nests in the Hudson Valley. Most if not all were engaged in similar activities. It is worthwhile to remember that prior to 1997 there had been no active eagle nests in the Hudson Valley for 100 years. Tom Lake.]

3/3 - Westchester County, HRM 43-34: I made an "eagle run" this morning. I got the feeling that the wintering birds are on their way out, thinking of heading north to breeding areas. I counted fifteen eagles along the way but that number was dependent on time, tide, wind, and how dirty my glasses were.

- Christopher Letts

3/3 - Peekskill Bay, HRM 43: Throughout the winter, flocks of cormorants use the navigation tower in Peekskill Bay and its rocky base as an operating platform. Great cormorants and double-crested cormorants have been present in about equal numbers and, as winter winds down, the two species are remarkable easy to compare and identify.

- Christopher Letts

3/3 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Common and hooded mergansers on Lake Meahagh were close to the road and easy to watch this morning. Far out from shore, a single female red-breasted merganser was diving - a merganser grand slam!

- Christopher Letts

3/4 - Garrison, HRM 52: I was walking on Indian Brook Road just before sunset, watching two immature bald eagles circling above a gully. They disappeared over the hillside only to reappear minutes later with an additional ten eagles. They flew off to the south, presumably to roost for the night. In a few short weeks all of this will change; the resident nesting pairs of eagles will oust the immatures. But for now they soar together through the evening air.

- Megan VanEvera

3/4 - West Point, HRM 51: I wasn't expecting to see much when I visited several vernal pools. However, in a pool mostly covered with a sheet of ice, a sunny spot on the southeast facing edge was busy with fairy shrimp and marbled salamander larvae, as well as a few amplexing newts.

- Marnie Miller-Keas

3/4 - Town of Warwick, Orange County, HRM 41: Liberty Marsh was half-iced and brimming with Canada geese. The snow geese of last week had moved on. With a brisk 25 mile-per-hour north wind it was decidedly not a flight day. The geese were beginning to separate, with the locals pairing up for nesting while the travelers were still congregated in the hundreds. A pair of green-winged teal and several northern pintails were mixed in with several hundred mallards.

- Tom Lake

3/4 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: A dozen ring-necked ducks were consorting with mallards at the clay hole this morning. Enough ice had melted to allow a great blue heron to take up its fishing perch on a beached log.

- Christopher Letts

[Clay holes are remnants from the harvesting of clay for nineteenth-century brick factories. Most are fairly deep and some, in the parlance of the locals, are "bottomless" in that they are deeper than a swimmer can reach with a lungful of air. Clay holes have always been a favorite place for fishermen to [illegally] stock river fish such as carp, white perch, striped bass, and if legends are true, giant sturgeon. Tom Lake.]

3/4 - Croton Point, HRM 35: While walking on the height of ground in the northeast corner of the Point on a beautiful blustery day, I came upon a dead gizzard shad. It was eighteen inches long and missing much of its midsection. I looked around in the surrounding trees for the culprit but it was long gone. This had been either an "eagle drop" or, given how easy food is to come by for eagles, simply a case of one not finishing its meal.

- Michael Grant

3/5 - Coeymans Creek , HRM 134: I was at the Coeymans House (dates to 1719), located on Coeymans Creek overlooking the Hudson River, with a few members from the Dutch Barn Preservation Society. We took a walk down to the creek to view the changes that had been made from the hurricanes of the past few years. We happened upon a group of beavers that took off as we approached. Apparently they are once again very active. Their lodge is built on the bank of the creek at a distance above the water with what appears to be a slide down to the creek.

- Roberta Jeracka

3/5 - Rhinecliff, HRM 95: While visiting the boat ramp in Rhinecliff in hopes of seeing a bald eagle, a pair of common mergansers landed just north of the ramp. There was no ice on the river and no eagles to see, but the mergansers were still a great sighting.

- Marty Otter

3/5 - New Hamburg, HRM 67: With a midday low tide I decided to stop by the Wappinger Creek outflow to the Hudson River. By late morning the tide was three-quarters low and the mud flats had a coating of clear shallow water making it an ideal area for the eagles to fish. In the trees on the south side of the outlet there were ten eagles perched overlooking the water. Some immature eagles seemed to display a form of hierarchy by pushing other immatures off their perches and claiming them. In a random order the eagles would fly down over the water and on occasion grab a fish. Around 11:30 a strong wind kicked up from the east and the fishing abruptly stopped.

- Tom McDowell

[This behavior, where one bird will display "attitude," is not uncommon among immature bald eagles. It is thought that this often comes from assertive third-year females. Tom Lake.]

3/5 - Manitou, HRM 47: The first chipmunk was spotted running around under the bird feeders today. The feeders were full of red-winged black birds, both male and female. All the other birds have changed their tunes to spring songs. Lady bugs were awakening in the house. I love to see some signs that spring is near.

- Zshawn Sullivan

3/5 - Croton Point, HRM 35: An adult bald eagle flew low past the resident red-tailed hawk's nest tree. One of the red-tails flew out to defend its territory, diving several times on the eagle until it was far enough away that the threat was gone. I watched one of the red-tail pair stoop on a clump of grass, and then spend ten minutes hunting on foot - looking, listening, and stabbing a foot into one grass tussock after another.

- Christopher Letts

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