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Hudson River Almanac June 8 - June 14, 2013

OVERVIEW

Our third week of periodical cicada "music" ended with no slackening of intensity. Cicadas were not present everywhere in the watershed, but where they were, the sight was impressive and the sound often deafening. The downriver flight of a white pelican was captured by Almanac contributors.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/14 - Town of Warwick, HRM 41: I came upon a black tern foraging over the southern impoundment of Liberty Marsh on Oil City Road.
- Sean Camillieri

[The Edgar A. Mearns Club checklist of Orange County birds lists the black tern as rare in spring and fall migration. New York is on the southeastern edge of this handsome tern's breeding range. Nesting colonies once occurred at 56 sites along the shores of Lake Ontario, in marshes along the St. Lawrence River, and inland in marshes of western, central and northwestern New York. Today, approximately 200 nesting pairs occur at less than 20 of the historic breeding sites, a decline mainly due to habitat loss and degradation. The species is listed as endangered in New York State. Curt McDermott, Steve Stanne.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/8 - Stuyvesant, HRM 127: I heard a "pocket" of cicadas in the woods along Hollow Road. There is something about the continuous background sound of thousands of cicadas, combined with the loud buzzing of nearby individuals, that is fascinating. The grass, shrubs, and trees along the roadside were full of hundreds of cicadas in various stages of development. There were empty exoskeletons, cicadas just emerging, some newly emerged individuals that were pale white, and the classic black and orange adults. One word describes the sound and sight of these creatures: "Incredible!"
- Jesse Jaycox

6/8 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I went canoeing on the lower Esopus after the big rain. The water was very high and muddy and there was a pretty fair current. On my return, I was greeted by three loud slaps from a beaver that apparently was very unhappy with me encroaching in his space.
- Glenn Countryman

6/8 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Some leftover bird seed in our backyard made for a zoo-like menagerie. From parts unknown, but likely from nearby backyard coops, a beautiful iridescent bluish-green peacock showed up this morning alongside one of our local white-tailed deer. The peacock gracefully picked ticks and bugs out of our lawn.
- Dave Lindemann

6/8 - Crum Elbow Creek, HRM 82: Volunteers began the Crum Elbow Creek Eel Ladder Project today. After the hugely successful Hudson River Glass Eel Project (over 100,00 glass eels netted, counted, and released upstream this spring), we now count the older and larger (three- to six-inch-long) elvers that are "stuck in traffic" at the base of the Vanderbilt Mansion dam, awaiting optimal conditions to ascend upstream. The ladder is actually a large PVC pipe, lined with mesh material kept awash via a siphon hose from above the dam; the top of the ladder empties into a barrel for retrieval, counting, and upstream release. Earlier this week, three dozen elvers were counted. Today, after the passage of Tropical Storm Andrea's remnants, only four were found. The thundering water flow might have kept many more further downstream.
- Dave Lindemann

6/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I arrived at the nesting site (NY62) in mid-morning. The eaglet was feeding in the nest and, when finished, hopped up to what seems to be its preferred perch about two feet above the nest.
- Tom McDowell

6/8 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It rained for 37 hours (2.4 inches) - a backhand from Andrea. When it stopped at 6:00 AM, the woods were totally silent: no cicadas, no tree frogs, no crickets, no birds. At 6:30, like a switch has been thrown, the cicadas began, distant but in total unison. Two hours later the trills and chatter were as loud as ever and hundreds of cicadas were flying in every direction. Discarded nymph casings hung on every other leaf on our hardwoods; the rest held adults.
- Tom Lake

6/9 - Saugerties, HRM 102: A Mississippi kite (possibly two) has been seen over the last week at Kaatsbaan. It's been feasting on cicadas. Someone claims to have seen one bird carrying sticks, which suggests that they may be nesting nearby.
- Rich Guthrie

6/9 - Tivoli Bay, HRM 100-99: As I kayaked Tivoli Bays, the beauty of the day was interrupted by the din of millions of cicadas, many of which were floating on the surface of the water frantically trying to regain flight. A good dinner for the many birds and possibly even for the fish. There was also a very large turtle sunning himself on a large log protruding from the water. The bay is beautiful.
- Glenn Countryman

6/9 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: My first hummingbird of the year just arrived. Usually they are here two weeks earlier while the wild columbine is still in bloom. But this time they missed the flowers by their late arrival. Maybe the cool weather kept them away.
- Vince Asher

6/9 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I received a report of a white pelican seen by several non-birders at the Poughkeepsie Yacht Club this evening. Since they are a pretty recognizable species, and the members of the club have seen pelicans elsewhere, I believe the report to be credible.
- Rich Guthrie

6/9 - Town of Wappinger: The eaglet in nest NY62 seems to be "branching" on a minimal basis. I met someone who had photographed an immature eagle flying to the nest tree. She later decided that the bird was a yearling and not the nestling. Again this week I spotted the adult female (N42) fishing in Wappinger Creek (little more than a mile south of the nest) with an immature.
- Tom McDowell

[These varied but consistent observations of a second immature may be evidence that helps us unravel the puzzle of the "early fledge" on May 26. Tom Lake.]

An immature peregrine falcon gets ready to take flight.

6/9 - Storm King, HRM 56: Route 218 was closed to traffic due to heavy rain last night so I hiked up to the parking area on the mountain's flank. Adjacent to the pulloff were the remains of a homing pigeon, recently deceased, still intact except for the lack of soft body parts. The wings, skeleton, and banded legs were still all connected, and surrounded by lots of loose feathers. Notable also was the missing head. No ants, still limber - the pigeon had probably met its fate within the previous hour or so. Close by was the juvenile peregrine falcon from the Storm King nest trying to climb the rock face. I was wondering how well the young falcon could fly when it suddenly took off toward Bannerman's Island, flying like it had been on the wing for years. After about ten minutes it returned to the same area. The youngster does well in the air but needs to work on the landing part. [Photo of immature peregrine falcon by Mike Pogue.]
- Mike Pogue

6/9 - Putnam County, HRM 55: The mountain laurel had begun to bloom along Canopus Lake in Fahnestock Park. I saw two large red-eared sliders basking with the painted turtles near the central dam separating the two sections of the lake.
- Stephen Seymour

6/9 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: During a late afternoon walk on the landfill, I was able to see all four target birds that appear to be breeding in the park: savannah and grasshopper sparrows, bobolink, and eastern meadowlark. Thanks are due to several people working for Westchester County to eliminate mowing on the landfill except adjacent to the methane posts.
- Larry Trachtenberg

6/10 - Minerva, HRM 284: I took a late day hike on the beginning of the Roosevelt Truck Trail and came upon a male black-backed woodpecker, a pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers carrying food, a vocal boreal chickadee, a yellow-bellied flycatcher, and a Swainson's thrush among other expected boreal habitat species. A broad-winged hawk vocalized near the railroad bed.
- Joan E. Collins

An io moth, a moth known by two dark eyespots on its wings, rests on a tree.

6/10 - Defreestville, Rensselaer County, HRM 142: I arrived at the Van Alen House for work this morning and saw a large and colorful moth on the screen window. Jesse Jaycox and Bob Schmidt identified it as a male Io moth (Automeris io).The Luykas Van Alen house, built in 1737 in the style of eighteenth century rural residences in the Netherlands, is on the National Register of Historic Places. [Photo of Io moth by Roberta Jeracka.]
- Roberta S. Jeracka

6/10 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: In less than a week, the water chestnut had taken over the south side bay. Just two days following the new moon, the ebb tide was extremely low and several great blue herons stalked the tide pools, zeroing in on killifish. Forty Canada geese foraged in the slightly deeper water and throughout the bay, the occasional explosion reminded us that the carp were spawning.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Eurasian water chestnut (Trapa natans) is an invasive freshwater aquatic plant that is native to Europe and Asia. It is believed that it was introduced to the Hudson River watershed in the late nineteenth century. Their seeds have four sharp spikes, an adaptation for dispersal, that make walking barefoot on Hudson River beaches dangerous. Tom Lake.]

6/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: Not long after sunrise, as I was watching three turkey vultures leave their night roost, they were set upon by a crow. Crows can be bullies. The turkey vultures were no threat; they were simply looking for a lift on an early morning thermal. The crow was relentless, using its superior maneuverability to bump and harass. Later, at the New Hamburg train station, I watched the bully get its just reward, as a much smaller eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus - Greek for "master") chased a crow the length of the commuter parking lot.
- Tom Lake

6/10 - Manhattan, HRM 5: While up on the roof terrace of our large apartment building in midtown, we've seen a pair of northern mockingbirds, always with tidbits in their bills, flying back and forth into a small but dense (what we think is a casuarina) tree that sits in a pot by the railing - one of the many planters that adorn the terrace. Unlikely spot though it seems to be, on the 34th floor with numerous tenants frequently visiting the adjacent area to picnic and sunbathe, we suspected that the birds had nonetheless had the temerity to build a nest there. We decided to check out our hunch, but very circumspectly, when no other people were on the roof and when the two birds themselves were on the wing. Sure enough, we found the nest, with three hungry fledglings obviously eager to be fed.
- David Finkelstein, Evelyn Letfuss

6/11 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Another 1.3" of rain fell overnight. In the heavy and humid air of dawn, the cicadas were as thick as ever and the noise made your teeth rattle. By day's end, another 0.7" of rain had fallen, making it 2.0" for the day.
- Tom Lake

6/11 - Montgomery, HRM 61: I took a walk around the lake trail at Winding Hills Park amidst frequent cloudbursts with the air sultry and humid. I noticed one bright orange salamander on the trail and stopped to admire it. Then on the return loop that abuts the forest area, I encountered a few more along the trail. Suddenly, everywhere I looked there were salamanders of varying sizes and coloration. Some bright orange with spots; others a dull, olive shade. Most were red efts (a life stage of the red-spotted newt). The trail had two or three at every step, so I had to tip-toe to avoid stepping on them. It was the most amazing explosion of minute amphibians I had ever seen. I've heard of the "Big Nights" when they cross the roads, but this was a "Big Day."
- Patricia Henighan

6/11 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: While out on Piermont Pier today, I spotted a white pelican perched on a piling. What a nice and totally unexpected surprise. This may have been the same white pelican sighted two days ago at Poughkeepsie.
- Peter Johnson

6/12 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Today was Cicada Day 21. We had reached a point where, 17 years ago, people began to talk to the cicadas in unkind tones. Conversations at a distance of more than five or six feet were pretty much impossible.
- Tom Lake

[Seventeen year ago, the periodical cicadas began their hum on May 29; by July 1 it was pretty much over (32 days). Tom Lake.]

6/12 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released five channel catfish, each to nearly two pounds, at Long Dock today. I didn't catch any carp. A local angler told me there was a very recent heavy carp spawning in the bay. I've heard from a number of other sources over the years that carp may spend some time in relative inactivity after the energetic demands of their spawning.
- Bill Greene

6/12 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23: An American white pelican was in the river off Dobbs Ferry at 5:30 AM, flying south just offshore. I tried all the waterfront parks south to Yonkers (river mile 18) but didn't see the bird again. Presumably this was the bird seen at Piermont yesterday.
- Gail Benson

[White pelicans are a bird of the Great Plains on up through central Canada. While every year or so, one or more turn up somewhere in the Northeast, they are a rare sighting along the estuary. Pelicans are strong flyers with the ability to soar at great heights, covering long distances. Their presence here generally occurs when blown off course either in migration or drawn here from the Great Lakes area by nor'easters. Rich Guthrie, Tom Lake.]

6/12 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: Paths were littered with tulip-tree petals. Foliage had been abundant for weeks, but the heavy rain brought by Andrea - followed by strong sunlight - seemed to have inspired much more. There was burdock, mugwort, ivy, wild chives, and the ever-present garlic mustard. Poison ivy, in all its forms, was more abundant than I've seen here before, as was Virginia creeper. One of the glacial potholes in the Clove collects rainwater, and a couple of weeks ago it was teeming with "wrigglers" (mosquito larvae). Either they have all matured or the heavy rain washed them out because there are none now. Small patches of yellow-flowered wood sorrel alternated with larger ones of pink herb-Robert. In the crannies of a retaining wall, Kenilworth ivy was still flowering near some small blue asters. White snakeroot was in flower; in Overlook Meadow, red and white clover were blooming, and grasses were waist high. The goldenrod was not flowering yet. There was a good deal of lamb's quarters, and I took some home for salad. Jewelweed was leafing out and tiger lilies were coming up, but no flowers yet. The showiest blossoms I saw were on Japanese honeysuckle. The red-bellied woodpecker was still at home in the tall snag where I've seen him since April.
- Thomas Shoesmith, Donna Mendell

6/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: With a cloudy dawn came a gray day and more heavy rain. The cicadas were silent. The only sounds from the woods were from a wood pewee with its plaintive question: "Pee-wee? Pee-wee!" But by midday, the cicadas were back, their hum somewhat distant but growing. For a while, I thought that yesterday's performance may have been like the finale of a fireworks show.
- Tom Lake

6/13 - Ossining, HRM 33: As we drove toward the river, we had to stop short to let a wild turkey and her six little poults go by. They took their time as they strolled across the road, sticking their necks out with each step.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

6/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie: This morning, the eaglet in nest NY62 was trying to fly to an upper branch but was unable to make it, so it flew back to a small branch it seems to favor. A short while later, two turkey vultures circled over the nest, causing the eaglet to get agitated. It flapped its wings and made its way back down to the nest from the perch.
- Eileen Stickle

6/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: With another 2.4" of rain yesterday, overnight, and today, the six-day total was now at 6.8". The cicadas were slow to come alive but eventually they resumed their chatter in the woods. Their effects are already apparent: our sweetgum tree has a dozen drooping branches with dying leaves.
- Tom Lake

6/14 - Croton Point, HRM 35: With a very strong north wind pushing the tide up on the beach, we seined as a warm-up for a program at tomorrow's Clearwater Revival. In a normal mid-June, the salinity would be five to six parts-per-thousand [ppt], maybe even more. But with almost seven inches of rain in the last week, today's reading was "undetectable." In addition to some young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass 90 millimeters [mm] long, we encountered three year-classes of river herring: YOY blueback herring (44-46 mm); a small number of yearling alewives (126-128 mm); and five dead male alewives washed up on the sand (229-232 mm). The water temperature was 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

A graph of the salt water levels at Pier 84 in the city shows the estuaries fluctuating salt levels.

[Salinity in the Western Atlantic at this latitude ranges from 32-35 ppt. Throughout the year the Hudson estuary's salinity is largely determined by the volume of freshwater flow from the watershed, and to a lesser degree by the vagaries of wind, tide, and current. The accompanying graph of salinity at Pier 84 in the Hudson River Park on Manhattan's West Side, based on Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System data, shows how salinity can vary greatly over short periods of time based on events like our recent rainstorms. While tidal currents tend to mix the river from top to bottom, water at the bottom of the river is generally saltier than water at the surface since salt water is denser than freshwater. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

6/14 - Piermont, HRM 25: A group of thirty Rockland AmeriCorps members joined me for a day focused on the Hudson River. In their seine they pulled in a sampling of Atlantic silversides, mummichogs, hogchokers, striped bass, white perch, and a small blue crab along with several dozen YOY river herring. The biggest catch in the net was a white perch nearly nine inches long. The rainy weather had lowered the salinity to 0.3-1.4 ppt, the reading rising with the tide. The rain had also caused high levels of turbidity, with site tube visibility averaging only about 8.5 inches.
- Margie Turrin, Kathy Galione, Nicole Laible, 2013 Rockland County AmeriCorps

6/14 - Manhattan, HRM 5: Sitting on the railing of my terrace this morning, across from Central Park, was a "sparrow hawk." It had a beautiful red back, red cap, black bars on the head and sides, and a long tail. It only rested for about a minute or two and then flew away with something it had been holding in its beak. It could have been little twigs, but I couldn't tell. There have been other such sightings in Manhattan where, once again, red-tailed hawks have nested outside of New York University President Sexton's office.
- Joan Martens

[In the 1934 edition of Roger Tory Peterson's Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America, the American kestrel is referred to as the "sparrow hawk." Since then, kestrel has become the preferred common name, matching usage in Britain. This change also occurred for the other two falcons seen regularly in the Hudson Valley, the peregrine falcon (once "duck hawk") and merlin (formerly "pigeon hawk"). Tom Lake.]

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