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Hudson River Almanac April 12 - April 18, 2013

OVERVIEW

Sandhill cranes, uncommon seasonal visitors to the Hudson Valley, made multiple appearances this week. It is difficult to know if these were migration or storm-related occurrences. In the water, herring and glass eels continued their inland migrations and the winter-to-spring landscape gained much color.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/18 - Poughquag, Town of Beekman, HRM 71: Four sandhill cranes landed in a swampy field near my house. They stayed a half-hour, probably eating peeper frogs. They blended perfectly with the brown grass but those red heads stood out like beacons. When they took flight, one made a distinctive bugling sound. Just beautiful!
- Patricia Mackay

4/18 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Jim Bourdon observed and photographed a sandhill crane this morning (9:00 AM) taking off from south side of the landfill and flying east toward the Croton River. A couple more may have been seen flying out to the river.
- Anne Swaim

[Sandhill cranes have an impressive 6-8 foot wingspan. Most breed in summer from the prairies of central Canada north to the Arctic tundra, but - starting in 2003 - nesting has occurred at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in central New York State. Edward Howe Forbush (1858-1929) believed sandhill cranes were common in the Northeast during migration in colonial times, but were likely extirpated by the early 1700s. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/12 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I awoke at 1:15 AM to an unusual noise on our back deck. When I peered out of our door there was the backside of a huge (estimated 300 lb.) black bear. It was sitting on its rear legs, its front legs upright, and its head facing away. Our two dogs began barking and the bear exited into our woods. The feeder support was bent but our bird feeder was untouched. Guess it's time to bring in the bird feeder. This is only the second bear we have seen in 28 years of living here.
- Bob Ottens

[From New York State Conservationist magazine, April 2013: Bird feeders attract bears, particularly in the spring after bears emerge from winter dens. Bears will stay near homes and camps for a longer period of time if feeders are available. Consider removing bird feeders by April 1.]
4/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Everywhere the forsythia was in full bloom. The otherwise brown, drab landscape was aglow in bright yellow. Those of us who used to set our nets in the river in spring would look for this day as a bio-indicator of the start of the strongest phase of the shad and river herring run. Now it is just another step in the coloring of springtime.
- Tom Lake

4/13 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: It was very surprising that we caught only two glass eels from our overnight set at Hannacroix Creek.
- Thomas V. Danahy

4/13 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Some of the birds we saw at Croton Point today included: red-necked grebe, horned grebe, common loon (2), red-throated loon (12), Wilson's snipe, great egret, laughing gull (rare here), rough-winged, barn, and tree swallows, brown creeper, Cooper's hawk, pine warbler, golden-crowned kinglet, red-breasted nuthatch, and two meadowlarks on the landfill. At the mouth of the Croton River (HRM 34) we also saw American wigeon (2), green-winged teal (6), belted kingfisher, and many flickers on the move.
- Charlie Roberto, Kyle Bardwell, Larry Trachtenberg, John Grant, Chris Drury, Peter Post

4/14 - Schodack, HRM 139: I noticed that dark-eyed juncos have lingered here longer this year than they usually do. Today at noon there were 36 of them feeding on my front lawn. They were likely fueling up for the trek back to their northern breeding areas. I have never seen this many at one time.
- Mary Ellen Grimaldi

4/14 - Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: In a more "usual" catch, we counted 106 glass eels and one elver in our fyke net from the overnight set.
- Thomas V. Danahy

[Having already defined glass eels (see 4/7 - Black Creek), elver is the next life stage we encounter. These are, for the most part, last year's glass eels that have lingered in the tributary and matured to the point where they look like miniature adult eels, in both physical (body) characteristics and darker pigmentation. As glass eels are already a year old, these are minimally two years old, ranging up to five years old, with sizes ranging from 100-200 millimeters (mm) total length. Tom Lake.]

4/14 - Mid-Hudson Valley, HRM 75-65: The woods had a soft red glow as the red maples budded out. In wooded areas where forsythia was not present, they provided the only color to the gray-brown forests.
- Tom Lake

4/14 - Crugers, HRM 39: When we hung our floral wreath on the front door two weeks ago we didn't realize that a house finch pair would decide to build their cup-shaped nest among the flowers. When we noticed it last week, we moved it from the door and hung it over the light nearby where it wouldn't be disturbed with people coming in and out of the house. We've been observing the female's head amid the flowers and wondered if she were perhaps sitting on eggs. Sure enough, we took a mirror today and spotted five light blue eggs in the nest.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

4/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: We spotted seven to nine Bonaparte's gulls here today, including several in breeding plumage with full black head. By the time we left, Ann Swaim had the count up to 19, with more coming in. The green-winged teal count is now up to 25 birds.
- Larry Trachtenberg, Charlie Roberto

4/14 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 15: I led my monthly walk at Wave Hill this morning and, although migratory songbirds were sparse, perhaps due to northwest winds, we had some nice sightings: a third-year bald eagle being dive-bombed by a greater black-backed gull that looked petite in comparison; a large V of double-crested cormorants headed north over the Hudson; a common raven flying across the Hudson making a "barrel-roll" as it flew overhead; a pair of calling fish crows; an osprey flying up the Hudson; palm and pine warblers; and both golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets.
- Gabriel Willow

4/15 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I had been wondering why days would go by without seeing any birds at my feeders. Then today I looked up in a tree over the feeders and saw a Cooper's hawk, and understood why.
- Trish Taylor

4/15 - Town of Poughkeepsie: It was a busy morning at the eagle nest today (NY62). Except for fishing, both parents remained at the nest. The male perched five feet above while the female tended to nest maintenance; periodically she would bring branches to build up the nest. The male has played a more active role compared to previous years. For a change, the local nesting red-tailed hawks gave the eagles a break from their harassment and aggression around the nest area. Both parents participated in feeding of the chick today. Promptly at noon the female headed down river and returned with a freshly caught river herring.
- Tom McDowell

4/15 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: The late afternoon high tide had run up into Hunter's Brook. While the water was tinged yellow-brown, it was absolutely clear. A small school of alewives made their way up this tiny tributary of Wappinger Creek on the pulse of the tide. Milling about in the pools were pumpkinseed sunfish, a couple of rock bass, white perch, and at least one white sucker.
- Tom Lake

[Identifying fish in their natural environment is a practiced skill. Short of snorkeling, which can be problematic in an estuary, the best way to identify fishes, especially in shallow water, is by developing a "sight image" based on their size, shape, color, swimming characteristics, and other behaviors. One of the best guides to this activity is C. Lavett Smith's Fish Watching: An Outdoor Guide to Freshwater Fishes (1994). "Smitty," as he is best known, is Curator Emeritus of Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, founder of our popular Hudson River Fish Fauna list, and an expert on the fishes of New York State. Tom Lake.]

4/15 - Croton River, HRM 34: A half-dozen Bonaparte's gulls were dipping and twirling in pursuit of some tiny morsels on the surface of the Croton River just inside Croton Bay, appearing much like phalaropes in their behavior. Whatever they were feeding on was not of interest to the mob of local gulls resting on the mud flats. Both rough-winged and tree swallows were feeding in the same area. An insect hatch? I had seen large caddis flies there a few days ago.
- Christopher Letts

[In the last 19 years of the Hudson River Almanac, we have recorded eleven species of gulls in the watershed. Tom Lake.]
- black-headed gull
- Bonaparte's gull
- Franklin's gull
- glaucous gull
- greater black-backed gull
- lesser black-backed gull
- laughing gull
- herring gull
- Iceland gull
- ivory gull
- ring-billed gull

4/16 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: As we arrived we only got to see the end of the story: An adult bald eagle was flying out of the marsh at the mouth of Fishkill Creek, heading toward Denning's Point carrying a good-sized fish, pursued by an osprey. There was a good chance that the eagle was not the original "catcher" of that fish.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Pirates on the river! One of the best shows, often in the fall, is watching eagles watch osprey. While eagles are among the best hunters of fish, they frequently allow osprey to do the heavy lifting, then swoop down and steal their catch. Tom Lake.]

4/17- Greene County, HRM 112: Twenty-three people attended our first spring birding walk at the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary. Highlights among the 43 species encountered included the nesting bald eagles with one nestling; a merlin and a sharp-shinned hawk passing through within five minutes of each other; a red-shouldered hawk; two blue-winged teal; and a few "out of habitat" species, including savannah sparrow and purple finch. We also had our first garter snake and Dekay's or northern brown snake seen at the sanctuary this spring.
- Larry Federman

4/17 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I stopped at Norrie Point on my way home from work and spotted a horned grebe fishing in the cove to the east of the education center. Later I went for a walk: Dutchman's breeches were starting to come out on the rocks and hepatica was at the height of bloom. At least two muskrats patrolled Indian Creek eating the emergent vegetation and four pairs of wood ducks wandered through last year's cattail stems. In the creek to the east of the railroad I found two red-breasted mergansers and a green-winged teal. Back along the river I had a treat: a beaver swam into the cove and climbed out of the water to munch on some brush. On the way home I had my final wildlife sighting of the evening and one of the surest signs of spring in the Hudson valley: a deer tick crawling up my arm.
- David Lund

4/17 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: Today was Mount Saint Mary College's opportunity to check and clear the eel fyke. The tide was rising but had not reached the net. The flow to the river was 57 degrees Fahrenheit, about eight degrees warmer than the Hudson. We collected and released 311 glass eels and three elvers. We could see small groups of alewives roiling on the surface in the current along the far shore - females broadcasting eggs; males rushing to cover them.
- Courtney Albright, Melanie Hofbauer, Roy Forster, Suparna Bhalla, Dharmhet Khangura, Tom Lake

[A fyke net is a collection device used most often for fish, but occasionally for turtles. Most are a series of hoops connected by mesh netting and leading to a "cod end" where captured fish accumulate. When used in a Hudson River tributary, fykes are set facing downstream to collect fish, such as eels, heading upstream. At the downstream opening, a section of netting is angled away on either side from the initial hoop to serve as a guide, encouraging fish to take the path of least resistance toward the mouth of the net. Tom Lake.]

4/17 - Edgewater, NJ, HRM 8.5: My spirits were lifted, just a bit today, by this year's first sighting of a barn swallow winging past my window as I looked out seeking and, surprisingly, finding, something to break the depressing monotony. This is right on time for the area, looking back through my journal.
- Terry Milligan

4/18 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: For the past couple of weeks we have had a bluebird pair in our yard. The male defends his territory early each morning by attacking our window, apparently his "rival."
- Jean Bush

4/18 - Black Creek, HRM 85: The DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit's herring counters had a very exciting experience today in our inaugural year with this project as we watched an estimated 200 river herring spawning in front of us.
- Courtney E. Albright

4/18 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: With the approach of spring, can "Bucky the Beaver" be far behind? Apparently Bucky, or one of his progeny, attacked Rabbit Island in a night raid and did a major amount of unauthorized pruning. Swimming into the Hudson from his lair somewhere in Wappinger Creek, he made a landing and cut down one of our white birch trees, leaving a two-foot-tall stump that looked exactly like a sharpened stake. He also did a significant amount of grazing on juniper bushes, three Japanese maples, and a weeping Alaskan cedar.
- David Cullen

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