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Hudson River Almanac March 13 - March 20, 2013

OVERVIEW

With the vernal equinox of March 20, 2013, we ended Year 19 of the Hudson River Almanac and began Year 20. The Almanac, a weekly natural history journal that seeks to capture the spirit, magic, and science of the Hudson River Valley from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, 320 miles to the sea, began on the vernal equinox of 1994 and has been an ongoing forum for capturing defining moments of the seasons ever since.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/13 - Rockland County, HRM 39: An early morning visit to our fyke net set in Minesceongo Creek to check for young glass eels found the water running fast and high from the recent storm. A check of the net showed 32 wriggly guests, immature American eels that had fought their way up against the rushing runoff that was coming from higher in the watershed. The eels were weighed and then released farther upstream. The water was a cool 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 C). It is always a thrill to see the vigorous eels that look like clear gummy worms with two dark black eyes.

- Margie Turrin, Brent Turrin, and Michael Gordon

a spring peeper frog crossing the road wet during the night

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/13 - RamsHorn, HRM 112.2: I heard my first-of-season spring peepers and wood frogs today at a vernal woodland pond just past the entrance to the RamsHorn. It was music to my ears for sure. [Spring peeper photo by Steve Stanne.]

- Larry Federman

3/13 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: I heard my first spring peepers calling today in Staatsburg.

- Jesse Jaycox

3/13 - Stone Ridge, HRM 85: Although it was only 43 degrees F in mid-afternoon I heard my first spring peepers on the Marbletown Rail Trail. It seemed too cold but out they were.

- Snapper Earl

3/13 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I arrived at the confluence of the tidal Wappinger and the Hudson River just before the mid-morning low tide. No eagles were in sight. During dead low tide, several belted kingfishers surveyed the water and settled in a nearby tree as well as on some electric utility wires.

- Tom McDowell

3/13 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I was delighted to see two red-breasted nuthatches today along with the usual white-breasted nuthatches.

- Jane Shumsky

3/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34: After a full day of rain, a walk under sunny skies seemed a capital idea. Flocks of robins, brown-headed cowbirds, and grackles had joined the red-winged blackbirds. Buffleheads were exuberant in their courtship. A half a dozen male cardinals were loudly assuring one another that they were, indeed, "pretty, pretty, pretty birdies."

- Christopher Letts

3/13 - White Plains, HRM 23: I managed a short hike this afternoon at the Cranberry Lake Preserve. At the start the hike was fairly quiet with the exception of a mixed flock of red-winged blackbirds and grackles perusing the perimeter of the lake. Upon reaching the opposite side, I was able to stop near an opening to watch a dozen hooded mergansers cruising along as well as four resting wood ducks.

- Mike Fraatz

3/14 - Ulster Park, HRM 88: The almost-spring rains and warmer temperatures had melted most of the ice off our pond, leaving room for some greatly-enjoyed visitors: two males and one female hooded mergansers; four males and one female wood duck. Yesterday's rain also brought out a few spotted salamanders crossing a nearby road.

- Peter Relson, Carol Anderson

3/14 - Westchester County, HRM 43-34: Killdeer and wood ducks had returned. I counted only seven eagles this morning in a quick search between Croton Point and Peekskill Bay.

- Christopher Letts

[As the watershed thawed, our wintering eagles were slowly moving north. Tom Lake.]

3/14 - East River, New York City: A dolphin was attracting attention along the East River today. It was first spotted yesterday off the FDR Drive at East 96th Street in Manhattan. Kim Durham, a staff member of The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, commented that the dolphin, probably a bottlenose dolphin, did not appear to be injured. The Riverhead Foundation will join officials from the NYS DEC to determine what species of dolphin it is and assess its health.

- Tom Lake

[To report a marine mammal sighting, call The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation's 24-hour Hotline, (631) 369-9829.]

3/15 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I was walking to the Croton-Harmon train station at 7:00 AM when motion caught my eye and a raptor flew up and landed on a fence post twenty feet away. As I continued to walk the bird perched on the post (at eye level) and watched me going past at a distance of less than ten feet. Since it seemed unconcerned by my proximity, I stopped and reached for my phone to take a picture. That was enough to make the peregrine falcon take flight to a branch over my head where it sat and stared at me as I continued to the train. It was a very interesting encounter.

- Hugh McLean

3/15 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: Tree swallows had returned; about fifty were swooping and soaring close to the water this morning. They are amazing - what are they finding to eat in this frigid weather? I used to lose sleep worrying about them, but now I just marvel.

- Christopher Letts

3/16 - West Hurley, HRM 98: I noticed snow drops blooming off Spillway Road today. Snow drops, appropriately named, are a small genus of about 20 species of bulbous herbaceous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae (subfamily Amaryllidoideae). Most flower in winter's last snow before the vernal equinox but certain species flower in early spring and late autumn.

- Roberta Jeracka

3/16 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: There was a solitary male red-breasted merganser on in the pond beyond my deck this morning. I actually noticed the rings around one of his dives before I noticed him because he dove so often. It was a beautiful specimen.

- Phyllis Marsteller

3/16 - Accord, HRM 82: While at a friend's house we spotted a fisher from the kitchen window undulating through the woods, pausing long enough to get a good view of it before it disappeared into the woods heading towards the Sanders Kill.

- Peter Nelson

3/17 - Germantown, HRM 108: Just after sunrise this morning, I was treated to an amazing forty-minute show of two male wild turkeys in display on my lawn. It was incredible to watch these two birds transform themselves from rather ordinary turkeys into splendid ones. The two males strutted and danced around one another, puffing up their body feathers, and splaying their tail feathers into magnificent fans. At one point a female turkey emerged from the brush, but did not appear to show much interest in either one of the males. It was fascinating to see how their appearance changed periodically. As their display ended, I watched as their feathers settled, their bright blue and red head coloring faded, and they calmly disappeared into the brush.

- Cynthia Reichman

3/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I checked on eagle nest NY62 today and all was well. The female was on the egg(s) incubating. The male periodically flew around the nest tree vocalizing as though they were having a conversation.

- Terry Hardy

3/17 - Brooklyn, New York City: We went looking for the varied thrush reportedly first seen in Prospect Park on March 7, ironically discovered by a visiting Washington State birder, Mark Salvadalena. After spending the morning looking for the bird, along with more than a dozen other hopeful observers, we saw many species but had not found the thrush. We eventually saw it after a pair of local birders found it in the early afternoon, foraging on a wooded hillside along with a European goldfinch, several white-winged crossbills, pine siskins, mourning doves, and robins. This was Prospect Park's first ever varied thrush.

- Jesse Jaycox

[According to the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds, the varied thrush is a "casual winter straggler from the Northwest." The European goldfinch, once imported as a cage bird, did establish nesting populations in the New York metropolitan area, the last on Long Island in the mid-twentieth century. However this colony disappeared due to loss of habitat. According to the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas, there have been no confirmed nesting records in recent decades; the occasional European goldfinches sighted in the region are most likely escapes from captivity. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

3/18 - Round Top, HRM 113: I was out for a mountain bike ride this afternoon and as I crossed one of our small creeks, way back in the woods, I jumped a pair of wood ducks - first of the spring. The red- winged blackbirds had made it back to Round Top just in time for the snow. Later I was out checking things around one of the beaver ponds and found a double set of fisher tracks. We have seen a lot of fisher sign (the "eastern badger") around this winter.

- Jon Powell

3/18 - Dutchess County, HRM 67: We have spotted a snowy owl residing in the wooded area of Stormville several times this week. We have no idea how long it may stay. If we don't see it any more, then perhaps it will have left for its Arctic home. Over the years, we haven't seen many of these, this being only the second or third.

- Sudhir Sharma

***When a photo came in to the Estuary Program in early April, it clearly showed a barred owl. A correction was published in the 3/29/13-4/4/13 issue. Steve Stanne.***

[Winter incursions of snowy owls in our area are more or less regular occurrences, every four or five years or so, and are thought to be caused by the low numbers of their prey to the north: hares and lemmings. Unfortunately, many of the snowy owls that show up in our area are badly malnourished. Eric Lind, National Audubon.]

3/19 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: There were two fox sparrows today at my feeding station at the Netherwood School.

- Susan Joseph

3/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It was the eve of the equinox, the cusp of spring, as five inches of snow followed by an inch of sleet covered the forest floor. Snow was heaped along the edges of the eagle nest (NY62) but the female was hunkered down inside. This was Day 21.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[In the thirteen years that we have monitored eagle nest NY62, we have come to appreciate how stressful, even brutal, that March weather can be. Many have been the nights that we lay in bed and listen to a cold and fierce wind, the chattering of sleet, freezing rain, deafening downpours, think of the incubating eagles, and marvel at their resiliency. Tom Lake.]

3/20- Knox, HRM 153: A newly fallen half-foot-deep blanket of snow covered the world in white and the morning temperature stood at 17 degrees F. The calendar said that spring arrived at 7:02 this morning; my senses say otherwise.

- David H. Nelson

3/20 - Lagrangeville, HRM 78: This morning I noticed an animal running quickly to my pond and then back to the wood pile carrying fish in its mouth. This went on for fifteen minutes. It was dark brown-to-black in color and dove into the pond under some ice and swam around. It was a mink. There is always something interesting going on in my pond: snakes, turtles, fish, and now a mink.

- Linda Gaines

3/20 - Town of Wawayanda, HRM 49: The landscape ("snowscape") was blindingly bright from the strong spring sun reflecting off several inches of fresh white snow. The numbers of snow geese had dwindled to fewer than thirty. Small groups of green-winged teal, heads tucked low, rocked in the chop on the farm ponds from the strong, cold west wind. Not many remembrances of spring here today on the vernal equinox.

- Tom Lake

3/20 - Town of Warwick, HRM 44: One of the most entertaining moments of the day occurred on the center stripe of a lightly-traveled back road where three black vultures jockeyed for position with a single crow over a road-killed raccoon. The crow made up for its lack of size with guts and maneuverability.

- Tom Lake

3/20 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Still black water, set in a field of glaring white - a favorite landscape for as far back as I can remember. On this alleged first day of spring it was much enhanced by the three drake ring-necked ducks and pair of hooded mergansers that were blithely diving beneath the frigid water in search of breakfast. Spring it may be, but the wood stove continues to devour a wheelbarrow full of stove wood every day, and the couch in front of the stove is still the most desirable seat on the premises.

- Christopher Letts

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