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Hudson River Almanac May 3 - May 9, 2013

OVERVIEW

The ruby-throated hummingbirds were back. This is always a welcome sign of early May since it coincides with many of their favorite flowers blooming. Another early May arrival, one you can almost predict to the day, is the Baltimore oriole. Naturalist and ecologist Aldo Leopold described the oriole's flash as "like a burst of fire." Their brilliant orange-and-black plumage brightens the spring landscape.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/4 - Minerva, HRM 284: I hiked nine miles on four different trails in Essex County today. I found a black-backed woodpecker nest location and, as usual, the male was doing all the excavation work. The female foraged nearby and called to the male. It is quite remarkable to watch how hard the male black-backed woodpecker works, non-stop all day. I also found a yellow-bellied sapsucker nest site. An American bittern vocalized from the marsh along the railroad bed in Minerva. Ruffed grouse seemed to be everywhere and I had to stop several times today while driving to wait for grouse to stroll across the highway.
- Joan Collins

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The bird chorus this morning was full of warblers and thrushes. New arrivals included black-throated green, black-throated-blue, black-and-white, and Nashville warblers along with Swainson's thrush and a least flycatcher. While the birds are arriving and faring well in this great spring weather, the same cannot be said for the small mammals in this area. Last year was a big year for small mammals but the lack of fall food (mostly beech nuts) caused the populations to plummet around October. Earlier in the week I spent some time with a graduate student from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) who has been trapping small mammals in the Huntington Wildlife Forest. Three nights of trapping, 168 traps per night, and not a single small mammal was captured. It is not looking like it will be a very good summer for small mammals or all the creatures that eat them such as coyotes, bobcats, owls, hawks, and weasels.
- Charlotte Demers

[More than a few Almanac contributors have commented on the near absence of chipmunks and squirrels in the lower Hudson Valley this spring. Tom Lake.]

5/3 - Round Top, HRM 113: As I stood on my deck this morning I could see and hear that spring was here. Shadbush was in full bloom; the "Tom" turkeys were gobbling; the first hummingbird zipped past my head to the feeder; and the phoebes were hard at work making a nest on the side of a log beam on the house. I love that little bird and always look forward to seeing them.
- Jon Powell

[A common thread for Almanac entries is a reference to Hudson River miles (HRM). These give context to each entry, that is to say where in the watershed the entry occurred. For research and navigation purposes, the Hudson River is measured upriver from the Battery (HRM 0) at the tip of Manhattan, in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor: The George Washington Bridge is at HRM 12, the Tappan Zee Bridge is 28, Albany 145, the Federal Dam at Troy, at the head of tidewater, is about 153, and Newcomb, at the foot of the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, is about HRM 302. While cities and bridges make convenient points of reference, river phenomena do not always occur at such neat and tidy intervals, so we see many references to places in between. While these designations are not exact, they do allow us to create a mind's eye picture of points on the river and in the Hudson watershed. Tom Lake.]

5/3 - Fourmile Point, Greene County, HRM 121: Tyler Kritzman caught a 41 lb., 45.74 inch long striped bass in the Hudson on a live river herring.
- Tom Gentalen

5/3 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands was dotted with small fishing boats and the beach was lined with anglers catching and releasing 15-17 inch long striped bass. [NYS striped bass regulations are one fish, at least 18 inches long, per day.] Amidst this sportfishing frenzy, we hauled our small beach seine and caught many small white perch and spottail shiners, none of which would have had sufficient size to serve as bait for the bass. But we were satisfied to find out who was home in the river today. The water was 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/3 - Garrison, HRM 51: It was School Forest Day for the Garrison school district. In addition to seeing carpets of trout lily and Canada mayflower leaves, one of the first graders found the smallest red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) I had ever seen. It was about two inches long, three-eighths inches wide, and had extremely fragile-looking limbs. After giving everyone a quick look, we put it back where it was found, hopefully not too traumatized by all the attention. We also heard woodpeckers drumming and the first blue jay I had heard this season.
- Susan Butterfass

5/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: A too-brief walk on a beautiful morning yielded two meadowlarks on the main landfill, sun hitting their yellow breast during their telltale flight. Great horned owls have again bred successfully on the Point.
- Larry Trachtenberg

5/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I had a first-of-the-season species today: Nashville warbler at a marsh along Route 28N. Black flies emerged today!
- Joan Collins

5/4 - West Hurley, HRM 93: While visiting a friend this morning, I spotted the largest wild turkey I had seen in a long time. We watched it casually walk down a hill and right behind it was a hen. They were obviously together with no other rivals in site. Now we will wait to see what comes later on this summer.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

5/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie: In an odd bit of housekeeping, I watched the male eagle bring a fish to nest NY62 this morning, and then remove a gray squirrel. Fifteen minutes later he brought another fish. A very active day.
- Jay Meyer

5/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This morning - warm, sunny, sweet-smelling - seemed to be a good time to put out a hummingbird feeder, just in case. This afternoon, one day earlier than last year, a plump male zipped up to the feeder, made the circuit of the blooming flowers, and took a perch on the fence.
- Robin Fox

5/5 - Catskill, HRM 113: Bait anglers were catching and releasing American shad on herring rigs in Catskill Creek.
- Tom Gentalen

["Herring rigs" are usually multi-hook Sabiki rigs, a series of six small hooks, each on a short individual dropper line. The dropper lines are tied to a longer leader, about 6 inches apart. A sinker is tied to the end of the leader and the rig is then jigged in the water attract river herring. Most of the river herring taken in this manner are used for striped bass bait. No take of American shad is allowed in the Hudson and its tributaries hence the release of this species when caught unintentionally. Tom Lake.]

5/5 - Palisades, HRM 23: I arrived at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory this morning in time to see the orchard oriole (first spotted last week) fly from the pond area and alight in a tree. Meanwhile, the resident Canada geese were out with their four tiny goslings. The song of the male red-winged blackbirds dominated the morning air, but a phoebe also sang relentlessly from a power line, as did a warbling vireo as it foraged in the top of an oak tree. The tree swallows had now firmly occupied the nest box, having evicted a pair of chickadees that had been there earlier in the season. I came upon the orchard oriole again low in a small tree. As I moved closer I noticed he wasn't alone - a female orchard oriole was also in the tree.
- Linda Pistolesi

5/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302 : A week with no rain and warm air temperatures resulted in some inhospitable conditions for our amphibians. While we have seen some green frog egg masses, spotted salamander egg masses have been few. Spring ephemerals continue to bloom including the red trillium and sessile-leaved bellwort. Shadbush (Amelanchier arborea) and witchobble (Viburnum lantanoides) were blossoming and added some beautiful contrast to the forest with their white blossoms. I love witchobble this time of year; it's so showy and bright, but I will be cursing it in a month as it grabs for my feet, usually resulting in a few tumbles to the ground.
- Charlotte Demers

5/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Watching bald eagles, at least for me, never gets old. Even after watching the pair in nest NY62 for thirteen years, there is always something new, something different. They are a perfect reflection of the river, the estuary, where we suppose that every day is different, when many forces collide to make each moment unique. The adult male came in from the river this morning with a fish. At a distance, through 10x binoculars, it appeared to be a foot-long river herring. The adult female was perched on a limb above the nest. The male brought the herring to the female and then left. It was a gesture that - in humans - might be seen as a gift. Twelve feet below the nestling peered up as if to ask, "And where is mine?"
- Tom Lake

5/7 - Manhattan, HRM 7.5: While biking on the Greenway bike path through Riverside Park, just north of the West 100th Street access path, I noticed a few Canada geese drifting south on the ebb tide along the rocky bank, feeding on bits of vegetation in the shallows. There were two families: one a pair of adults with three goslings; the other an adult pair with seven goslings. The goslings were small and short-necked, with fluffy light brown feathers, the very definition of cute. The youngsters clearly knew which adults were their parents, and which were mere friends.
Farther from shore, I noticed a cormorant diving for its dinner. It came up with an eel that it struggled to control. It kept the eel in its bill, but was having difficulty. After a while the eel stopped resisting and the ormorant dropped it briefly in the water, as if to take a quick breather. Then the cormorant grabbed the eel's head with its bill and started to swallow. The cormorant pointed its head up to the sky, making its neck as straight as possible, as the eel slid down. In just seconds most of the fish was inside except for a few inches of the eel's tail that didn't seem to fit. The cormorant looked incredibly uncomfortable with the eel's tail poking out of its mouth. Over the next five minutes or so I watched the cormorant drift south, periodically lifting its bill to the sky, trying to finish the job. Eventually the bird was too far away to see clearly, and I never saw the cormorant finish the meal.
- Kaare Christian

5/8 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was out early this morning - first through the woods, then to the pond - and enjoyed a small spring-like festival of delights. The woods, a mix of deciduous hardwoods and conifers, were still very open, with buds just swelling and a little green showing. I spotted a single yellow-rumped warbler and an ovenbird (both singing), and a wild turkey gobbling off in the not-too-far distance. At the pond I heard a song sparrow, red-winged blackbirds, Canada goose, and our annual nester, a pied-billed grebe with its pretty unmistakable call. Blooming along the pond was leatherleaf; in the nearby woods were purple trillium, wild oats, and shadbush, all flowering.
- Mike Corey

5/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie: A half-inch of rain fell for the second straight day. With air temperatures in the high 60s, hypothermia was not an issue for the eagle nestling in NY62. The heavy rain filtered through the nest and poured down the trunk of the tuliptree. While eagle nests are sturdy, they are also porous, and this allows for a nest cleaning every time it rains. Nests with eaglets can accumulate much offal, from leftovers to excrement, and a good rinsing from time to time serves them well.
- Tom Lake

A delicate flower, known as wild columbine, in full bloom

5/9 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: We had a much needed rainfall, nice and slow, inch-and-a-quarter. I would gladly have received twice that amount. Our soil was dry as much as eight inches down. The first of the wild columbine bloomed today and, as I admired it, the first bullfrog of the season began his serenade just across the road. [Wild columbine photo by Clark Reames, courtesy U.S. Forest Service.]
- Christopher Letts

5/9 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: So far, there is only one hummingbird in my yard. It's the plump male that arrived five days ago. He whizzes around to the feeder, checks all the flower buds, and sits on the fence as if waiting. Every now and then, the mood changes, and he starts to flirt with, joust with, and challenge a clothes pin that I had left on the fence last fall. The pin is about the size and color of a resting hummingbird, and it's clipped at the top of the fence in a "perched" position. The little bird swoops, darts, jabs, and whirls in familiar hummingbird motions. While the behavior is a bit bizarre, it is also quite charming.
- Robin Fox

5/9 - Croton Point, HRM 35: For the last three early mornings, there has been a lingering single red-throated loon just off the swimming beach at Croton Point. This seems quite late to me? I was also fortunate to hear a singing orchard oriole this morning.
- Larry Trachtenberg

[According to the Birds of North America Online, red-throated loon migration peaks in April in Massachusetts, late April in inland Ontario. This bird was a bit late, but I can recall seeing them along the Massachusetts coast - not far away as the loon flies - into the latter half of May. Steve Stanne.]

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