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Hudson River Almanac May 10 - May 16, 2013

OVERVIEW

The sand has run out of the hourglass - the return of the seventeen-year periodical cicadas is upon us. This week we note the first emergence of cicada nymphs that will quickly become adults, most likely leading to a couple of weeks of migraine-inducing noise. On a quieter note, most everyone has their hummingbirds back.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/15 - Hudson Valley: On April 24-25, 1865, Lincoln's funeral train moved up the Hudson Valley. Walt Whitman wrote:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs - where amid these you journey,
With the tolling tolling bells' perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

I remember these verses each year when lilacs bloom in my Hudson Valley garden. Another marking of the season.
- Elizabeth T. Martin

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Some more spring migrants have arrived from their wintering grounds: Nashville and northern parula warblers, ovenbird, and the waterthrush are all recent returnees. A smidgeon of rain (0.10") occurred two days ago; that little bit seemed to have resulted in some quick leaf-out. Red and sugar maples along with American beech were now leafing out. The trees and shrubs were just waiting in stasis for a bit of moisture to give them a little push. It always happens so quickly no matter how prepared we are for spring's arrival. Two days ago you could easily see the birds in the tree branches; today they are well-hidden by the emerging vegetation.
- Charlotte Demers

5/10 - Peeble's Island to Troy, HRM 158-153: I went electro-fishing this morning with NYSDEC Region 4 staff. They were doing their fish surveys and I was after blueback herring. I brought along three Ukrainian graduate students who are the first in a new, joint Master's program set up between SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the University of Kiev. The weather was perfect and already there were dozens of anglers out on the water at Troy. You could see many swirling splashes of blueback herring spawning in the shallows. The bluebacks were definitely larger than we saw last year.
We began electro-shocking on the west side of the river and ran into many shortnose sturgeon. They seemed to be mostly piled up on that side. There were striped bass in abundance as well, and many river herring. We caught a half-dozen American shad and saw several swim away. We also got gizzard shad, smallmouth bass, freshwater drum, channel catfish, yellow bullhead, white suckers, and a shorthead redhorse.

Then we fished the east side up, into, and through the Federal lock. In addition to river herring, we found yellow perch, spottail shiners, bluegill, pumpkinseed, green sunfish, and American eel. We saw but could not catch a northern pike.

Quagga mussels were in abundance at Peeble's Island. David Strayer, aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and an expert on bivalves of the Hudson, says that quaggas have been seen in the river since 2008. He's waiting to see if they will out-compete zebra mussels, as they have done in other places.

Our best "Almanac moment" was seeing the huge smiles on the faces of the Ukrainian graduate students, Anna Ganzya, Natasha Shynkarenko, and Olga Shevtsova, when they posed with the shortnose sturgeon and then got to drive the boat!

- Karin Limburg

5/10 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: I woke up this morning to find the bird feeder knocked down and lying in pieces on the driveway. From the bite marks on it, I'd guess a black bear wanted some black oil sunflower seed.
- Larry Roth

5/10 - Milan HRM 90: Our first hummingbird of the season, a male, came today.
- Marty Otter

5/10 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The lilacs were in full bloom and, right on schedule, the hummingbirds have returned!
- Barbara Wells

5/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adult female perched above eagle nest NY62 and watched as the adult male brought in a fish. It appeared to be a white sucker, as it was more terete in cross-section, and not slab-sided like a river herring, the two most popular candidates. The nestling's feathers have moulted to dark brown.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/10 - Croton River, HRM 34: Carp had begun the wild thrashing and splashing that presages spawning. Black mustard was in bloom and gray catbirds were meowing from the understory.
- Christopher Letts

5/10 - Westchester County, HRM 30: We went for a walk around Pocantico Lake and heard wood thrushes and several warblers, including ovenbird and American redstart. There was also a greater yellowlegs in the mudflats. The highlight came when we scanned the lake for wood ducks. First we saw three beautiful males together, then another group with three more males and a female. Then...well, by the end we counted thirteen wood ducks, by far the most we've ever seen in one place.
- Sharon AvRutick, Joe Wallace

5/11 - Beacon, HRM 61: I was hiking along Clove Creek and found numerous half-inch diameter holes under planks and pieces of bark. They were occupied by seventeen-year cicada nymphs working their way to the surface to emerge shortly. It's going to get loud around here in a couple of weeks.
- Steve Seymour

[Periodical cicadas have a life cycle of seventeen years, one of the longest among insects. They live underground as nymphs, feeding on sap in tree rootlets, before emerging simultaneously in large numbers at dusk. The nymphs crawl up the nearest tree trunk and moult overnight to their adult form. The mating song is produced only by the males and is usually a loud (sometimes pulsating) buzz. Female cicadas are drawn to the call, mate, and then disperse. The females cut slits in tree branches into which they deposit their eggs. These branches and twigs usually die and eventually break off. As summer comes, many Hudson Valley trees will have a brownish look to them as some of their leaves die. In one to two months the newly hatched nymphs burrow underground and the seventeen-year cycle begins again. Adult cicadas live for three to four weeks and are eagerly consumed by birds and other animals. The biggest threat to their survival is habitat loss through land development. Areas where nymphs had burrowed into the ground seventeen years ago might be parking lots or deforested areas when they emerge (Borror and White 1970:129).

5/11 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I am relieved. A pair of bluebirds had arrived (returned?) to nest in one of the boxes; the other was previously "dibbed" by a nesting pair of tree swallows. Consistent with personal reports from both Croton and Brewster of a dearth of small mammals, I have still seen only one chipmunk, twice munching on buds/sprouts of a young beach plum that it had expertly climbed. Some buds of lilacs were opening. I spotted Baltimore orioles flitting in the grass and was able to distinguish them from the multitude of dandelions.
- Nancy P Durr

5/11- Crugers, HRM 39: While driving today, we were startled at the sight of a male Baltimore oriole. His beautiful black-and-orange body was a quick flash as he flew past our car.
- Dianne Picciano

5/11- Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Curator John Phillips called to report a flock of more than one hundred bobolinks on the landfill - a strong first wave.
- Christopher Letts

5/12 - Rhinebeck, HRM 91: Early this morning I heard a "peep" sound, and when I looked outside I saw a spotted sandpiper bobbing its tail in a grassy patch between my deck and the pond beyond. When I went outside with my binoculars, I flushed a green heron. A short time later a pair of Canada geese and four goslings showed up.
- Phyllis Marsteller

5/12 - Rhinebeck, HRM 89: Mona Payton reported a black-headed grosbeak in the fields at Southland Farm. It was seen perched on a post along the farm road that runs parallel to Route 9 between two fields. It eventually flew off toward Route 9.
- Deb Kral

[The black-headed grosbeak is considered casual or accidental in Dutchess County. According to the Birds of North America Online, it breeds from subalpine forests to desert riparian zones throughout western North America from southwestern Canada to southern Mexico. Tom Lake.]

5/12 - Westchester County, HRM 30: I was hiking today in an area where I frequently notice short-eared owls. I got thinking about them and how the apparent absence of small mammals will impact their survival. Will they again nest in this area or move on? This dietary void will impact both the dependent predator as well as those predators/scavengers which add them to the diet as the opportunity occurs.
- Ted Gass

5/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Mother's Day. The adult female, "Mama," was out on the river, perhaps hunting or just taking a break. The adult male assumed the guardian position on a broken horizontal limb twelve feet above the NY62 eagle nest facing the river. On a warm and humid day, the nestling was napping.
- Merry Meyer, Eileen Stickle, Bill Stickle, Tom Lake

5/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Our first ruby-throated hummingbird, a male, came around today. He landed on the clothesline and contemplated which of the feeders he would visit. He chose the nearest. I noticed several cicadas nymphs on the Norway maples in the woods.
- Tom Lake

[In 1996, the first freshly emerged periodical cicadas were noted by Chuck Keene and Barbara Corwin in Cornwall-on-Hudson on May 29. By June 4, cicadas were providing continuous "music" as I sampled Quassaick Creek for late-season river herring, prompting the comment, "soon they will drown out the songbirds." By the next day, along the tidal Wappinger, I heard a sound that had an unfamiliar "alien" ring to it, reminding me of H.G.Wells' "War of the Worlds." From every quarter dogs were barking and someone yelled out their window "Shut up!"...meant for the cicadas, not the dogs. By June 10, the din had increased to a point where "it seemed to permeate the fields and forests and vibrate through our bones." On June 20, it was still the dominant dawn-to-dusk sound. By July 1, Roger Downs noted at Astor Point, in Greene County, that the cicadas were dying in droves. The tide had deposited thousands of their carcasses on the shore, prompting carp to almost beach themselves to get a taste of this delicacy. Fifteen days later at Astor Point, Roger again noted that it was beginning to look like autumn as the leaves of almost every large hardwood tree in the area were dying. Hudson River Almanac, Vol. II.]

5/12 - Bear Mountain State Park, HRM 45.5: We spent the morning birding Doodletown Road. Many of the expected breeding birds were in, including hooded and cerulean warblers and Louisiana waterthrush. Highlights included a Kentucky warbler on the Doodletown Trail, seen and heard on both sides of the trail north of the brook. We had our first flycatchers of the year with calling Acadian and least flycatchers south of the main trail. Another highlight of the trip was an excellent view of a female cerulean warbler.
- Ken Feustel, Sue Feustel

5/12 - Crugers, HRM 39: The scent of lilacs and lilies-of-the-valley permeated the air as we headed for Ogilvie's Pond on this beautiful Mother's Day afternoon. The water was choked with spatterdock, its yellow flowers poking out from its fan-like leaves. On a grassy area by the pond, we noticed a half-dozen baby brown-headed cowbirds scurrying around and pecking at the ground. There was no sign of the resident great blue heron.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

5/12 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles had begun to sing.
- Christopher Letts

5/12 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 15: Highlights on a Mother's Day bird walk at Wave Hill included two very cooperative pairs of Baltimore orioles, hopping about in cherry trees at eye-level, two male orchard orioles, and about ten species of warblers (many heard, not seen, all singing): northern parula, yellow, chestnut-sided, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, prairie, and blackpoll warbler, as well as American redstart and common yellowthroat. Other highlights included scarlet tanager, fish crows with twigs in their beaks (thinking of nesting nearby, or just playing?), peregrine falcon and merlin flyovers, warbling and blue-headed vireos, and a robin feeding her nestlings, perfect for Mother's Day.
- Gabriel Willow

5/12- Manhattan, HRM 5: I was biking down the West Side bike path when I spotted a big dead fish in the water. I approached it and realized it was a headless sturgeon about four feet long and weighing maybe forty pounds.
- Paul Greenberg

[An accompanying digital photo revealed that it was an Atlantic sturgeon. Periodically, sturgeon wash ashore showing trauma from impacts with river-going vessels, particularly propellers. Among their many unusual behavioral traits is their predilection for jumping clear out of the water, similar to the breaching behavior common to large marine mammals. This will, on occasion, place them in harm's way. Tom Lake.]

5/13 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: There are rumors going around that another seal has come to the Rogers Point Boat Club. Don't believe them. It is a beaver, at least three feet long, nose to tail. I watched the beaver for 30 minutes today before it hauled out under the docks.
- Jim Broderick

[It has been nearly two years since a gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) visited the estuary. The seal arrived at Hyde Park on July 20, 2011, and left on September 17, a total of 60 days. It was the first record of a gray seal to venture up the Hudson. The seal was a yearling, at least five feet long, 75 lb., and likely pupped in winter of 2010-2011 in the far North Atlantic. Tom Lake.]

5/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The calls were vaguely familiar but just did not seem quite right, as we watched a dozen crows fly past. These were fish crows, a bit smaller than common crows and with a call that is more like "caa" than the full throated "caw" of the common crow.
- Christopher Letts, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/14 - Minerva, HRM 284: We took a hike back to the wetlands this morning at a somewhat chilly 46 degrees Fahrenheit air temperature. Hobblebush was in full bloom in the woods. On the pond were a pair of geese, a stunning pair of common mergansers, and a pair of mallards, all in breeding plumage. In the marshy areas, not too far away, I found our American bittern and pied-billed grebe. An osprey cruised around on some thermals above the marsh, then disappeared to the west toward the Hudson River. This is possibly the bird that has a nest in an island tree on Minerva Lake. Around the marsh margins I heard a least flycatcher and the ever-present red-winged blackbirds. I have yet to see any female red-wings.
- Mike Corey

5/14 - Columbia County, HRM 120: I hiked the red trail to the top of Harvey Mountain, the highest elevation in Columbia County. On my way to the summit at 2,065 feet, a few red trillium dotted the trail. The leaves were the largest I've ever seen - about the size of my hand. I used the dirt road for my descent. In the distance, I could see the ridge line of Brodie Mountain in Hancock, MA, at an elevation of 2,500 feet. It was amazing to think about the headwaters of the Kinderhook Creek being out there near those wind turbines, and all the landscape in between the headwaters and the mouth of the Stockport Creek where the Kinderhook eventually empties.
- Fran Martino

5/14 - Black Creek Preserve, HRM 85: Two pairs of wood ducks startled into flight as I walked along the trail by the creek. Further along the red trail, a young black rat snake clung motionless to the base of a tree. Close to the river was a jumble of feathers, all that remained of a blue jay. No sign of the predator that made the kill.
- Abi Locatis

5/14 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Sixth grade students from Kinry Road School in Wappinger Falls and I reveled in the sight of our first chipmunk of the year. I expect that every red-tailed hawk in the area has it in their sights by now. The tide was extremely low and so we lowered our expectation for catching many fish. After a dozen hauls of our seine we had netted five native species: redbreast sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, American eel, spottail shiner, and tessellated darter. The river was 60 degrees F, but the inshore shallows were a warmer 63 degrees. Just before we began our seining, we found a stone netsinker along the rocky beach. These are small palm-sized sandstone pebbles fashioned by Native American hundreds if not thousands of years ago by pecking notches on each side and then tying them to the bottom of nets woven of natural fibers and cordage. They are not rare along Hudson River and tributary beaches.
- Tom Lake, Brianna Rosamilia, MacKenzie DePuy

5/15 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: Despite rainy conditions, warblers were abundant this morning at Ferncliff Forest. The highlight was a beautiful male Cape May warbler perched next to a worm-eating warbler on the East Tower Trail. Also seen were a male bay-breasted, Tennessee, blackburnian, northern parula, black-throated blue, and black-throated green warblers.
- Ryan MacLean

5/15 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: There are a few places near my home in the city of Poughkeepsie where I can sneak in a walk in the woods with my dog before work. And although these spots tend to be overrun with invasive plants, deer, and ticks, it is still a touch of nature. This morning my timing was such that the rising sun hit hundreds of spider webs perched atop the dried stalks of last year's meadow foliage. The dew was highlighted on each one like delicate icing, and gave me a chance to pause, take a deep breath, and marvel.
- Cornelia Harris

5/15 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 68: We had many purple finches at our feeders in April. Now only our Niger feeder remains up but it has hosted a solitary male rose-breasted grosbeak at least twice a day for over a week.
- Ellie Dubetsky, Derry Dubetsky

5/16 - Milan HRM 90: The black bears were back at 1:00 a.m. It was mama and her two cubs, and she is quite the size as evidenced by her ability to reach a bird feeder. I have to use a hooked pole to reach to refill feeders.
- Marty Otter

5/16 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: One of the fondest remembrances of my youth in Beacon was a rather low-hanging Baltimore oriole nest in a large sugar maple in my yard. For a few years, I watched the adults tend to the nest and their nestlings, watched the fledglings leave, and all the while fell in love with their orange-and-black outfits. Now I have the pleasure of watching it all over again, through binoculars, in a tall black locust in my yard.
- Tom Lake

5/16 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: I caught two full-bellied channel catfish today, each weighing about three pounds. The bait was my usual flour-and-cornmeal dough. I'll try and mix more cornmeal into the batch to try and entice the carp that I really want to catch.
- Glen Heinsohn

5/16 - Crugers, HRM 39: This evening I visited Ogilvie's Pond in hopes of seeing the resident black-crowned night heron. As I approached I was startled to see four white-tailed deer in the water near the far edge of the pond. They were drinking, oblivious to the fact that they were being watched.
- Bob Ferguson

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