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Hudson River Almanac July 4 - July 9, 2013

OVERVIEW

It was another sultry week of heat and humidity, punctuated by frequent and fierce thunderstorms. The only respite, albeit meager, was to get in the river. Even then, the water was the color and temperature of weak tea.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/9 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: This evening I was treated to the sight of a long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) resting on a log in the tidal Wappinger. It stayed on the log the whole time I was there. What a beauty!
- Eileen Stickle

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/4 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: With the cicadas having departed, our pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds was back in business (at the height of the emergence, the poor-flyer cicadas were essentially bumping the hummers off the feeders). Having endured that 43 day odyssey, the tiny birds now were dodging yellow jackets lured by the scent of sugar water.
- Tom Lake

7/4 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 62: In last week's Almanac, Carol Coddington of Blooming Grove asked if anyone else has noticed a decline of cardinals, grosbeaks and hummingbirds at the feeders. I live in the Town of Montgomery, and have noticed the same thing - especially the missing hummingbirds that used to fight over the feeders. We are now down to two hummers.
- Pat Offerman

7/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I read Carol Coddington's report in the Almanac about having fewer hummingbirds at her feeders. Perhaps you can let her know I too am missing my summer crowd.
- Robin Fox

7/4 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: At last, I spotted an immature osprey teetering on the brink of the "cell-phone" nest in the parking lot of the Croton-Harmon Railroad Station. Until now, in my daily stops, I had not seen any young, only the parents leaning down in the nest, tenderly feeding the unseen next generation.
- Christopher Letts

7/5 - Selkirk, HRM 135: I was driving down the road and noticed that the St. John's wort was in bloom, as is the biennial common mullein plant. Mullein is an amazing plant that heals the soil and can be used in a tea.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

7/5 - Clinton Corners, HRM 85: This week we received a double treat from nature. We normally have a range of animals come to our yard but this time we were pleasantly surprised by their activities. A white-tail doe and her twin fawns had been around for about a week. It's great to watch the fawns frolic on the lawn. When you put them together with a few wild turkeys, it becomes even more enjoyable. Apparently the fawns had never seen a turkey before, so like any other youngsters, they had to explore. It was fun watching them slowly approach the turkeys; by their stance it was obvious that they were being cautious and ready to run. The turkeys, on the other hand, seemed disinterested and just kept to their business. I'm sure the doe was watching and let her babies get one of their first lessons experiencing other wildlife. Another first for us was to see a tom turkey take flight to a night roost. It always amazes us how such a large bird can fly. No running start, just what seemed like a "rocket assist" to the tree.
- Robert Tucker, Kathleen Tucker

An osprey in flight

7/5 - Croton River, HRM 34: The common loon in midstream was flashing a huge amount of white as it performed its morning toilet. An adult bald eagle flying up from Ossining, a mile down river, landed on Croton Point. Then the entire osprey family - mom, dad and the kids - took off from the nest and soared out over the river. One bird, surely a parent, broke off and dove into the cottonwoods chasing out the eagle. It pursued the big bird as avidly as I have ever seen an eagle chasing an osprey to pirate fish - diving, pecking, hot pursuit - while the rest of the family moved farther out over the Tappan Zee. Payback. [Photo of osprey by Mike Pogue.]
- Christopher Letts

7/5 - Inwood Hill, HRM 13.5: White mulberries littered some of the paths in the park. The water collected in the glacial pothole in the Clove had a new generation of wigglers (mosquito larvae). Blackberries were ripening, and day-lilies were spectacular in many places. I gathered a good deal of garlic-mustard seed. The little ebony spleenwort - the only fern I've seen in this park- has recovered from a coating of spray paint that I'd thought fatal, and is looking fine. A few blocks to the south in Fort Tryon Park just off Broadway, where I glimpsed a groundhog [woodchuck] last fall, one came out of the bushes opposite Dongan Place just long enough for a photo. This is about a mile and a half from the northern tip of Manhattan Island!
- Thomas Shoesmith

7/6 - West Hurley, HRM 93: I was on Spillway Road when I saw a hen wild turkey strut across the road with eight poults. I'd like to think that this was the result of my sighting last spring of the hen and the tom. You never know.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

7/6 - Beacon, HRM 61: At 93 degrees Fahrenheit it was another in a long series of 90+ days; a brisk but warm south wind did little to temper the heat and humidity. The inshore shallows had been super-warmed (84 degrees F) by the relentless heat of each day, a water temperature more typical of late-July to mid-August. In some summers, the river never even reaches 80. Our net captured many young-of-the-year [YOY] fishes such as alewives 928-930 millimeters [mm] long and striped bass (25-44 mm). We also caught several gravid female mummichogs (killifish) carrying eggs.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

7/6 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34, I paused in mid-walk to wipe away the stinging sweat (and this at dawn) and spotted four feathered lumps spaced along the back of a park bench. With downy feathers, right out of the nest, this batch of tree swallows was waiting, waiting, for just about the last free meal they were ever going to get. The parent birds flew past, food clenched in beak, dipping low over the bench. The little ones, one at a time, rose and followed and were rewarded with a mouthful of insects, and then back to the bench. I was fascinated and sat at a nearby bench for a half hour to watch.
- Christopher Letts

A bird nest containing both brown-headed cowbird eggs and eastern phoebe eggs

7/7 - Defreestville, Rensselaer County, HRM 142: We have an eastern phoebe nesting at the historic Van Alen house in Rensselaer. The female looks destined to be a foster mom as well. In addition to three small phoebe eggs, her nest contains two large speckled brown-headed cowbird eggs. [Photo of phoebe and cowbird eggs by Roberta S. Jeracka.]
- Roberta S. Jeracka

[Brown-headed cowbirds are referred to as "brood parasites." The nesting phoebe would not recognize the two cowbird chicks and would likely raise them as their own. The cowbird nestlings often out-compete the host nestlings because they hatch out sooner, are bigger, more aggressive, and will often dump their nest mates over the side. Rich Guthrie.]

[Sometimes the parents succeed in raising both the cowbirds and their own. Some years ago a cowbird laid an egg in a phoebe nest on our porch. The cowbird fledged before the phoebe young were ready. The parents fed the cowbird in the bushes and their three young in the nest for several days until all fledged. Cowbirds lay eggs in the nests of many birds, including warblers and sparrows. Most outcomes are not as positive for the hosts as was the case with my phoebes. Larry Federman.]

7/7- Ravena, HRM 133.5: It's been a hot, wet past couple of weeks. That may be the reason this year I'm getting an abundant harvest of black caps from the wild berry patch on the edge of my front lawn. Last night I found the trees around my back yard swarming with lightning bugs, the most I've ever seen back there. Whatever else the weather may be doing, it seems to agree with at least part of the flora and fauna around my house.
- Larry Roth

7/7 - Ulster County, HRM 87: I watched an "earful" of perhaps twenty cedar waxwings casually feeding and slowly making their way down the Rondout Creek in High Falls. They each announced their turn with a quick "zeee" trill, circled the river dipping and rising to catch bugs invisible to us, and then back to the same branches they started from. Once an area was cleaned out they moved farther down river.
- Snapper Earl

7/7 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: One of the best antidotes to these steamy days (93 degrees F) is to get in the river. This north-facing beach had somewhat cooler water today (79 degrees F) than yesterday, four miles south at Beacon. While our catch was almost entirely YOY striped bass, these were all considerably larger (98-102 mm) than we had been seeing.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[While size alone is usually is a good indicator of age among YOY fish, there are variables such as availability of food and environmental factors that can produce a range of sizes among similarly-aged fish. Tom Lake.]

7/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: An important part of observation includes noting what one does not see. This summer I've noticed an absence of black-capped chickadees and only a couple of blue jays at our feeders. We are usually overrun with both. While we had a multitude of chickadees over the winter, I've not seen one in months. I can't help but think that the changing climate is pushing them north.
- Donna Lenhart

7/8 - Beacon, HRM 61: Back in the sultry soup of Long Dock Park (84 degree F), our catch was more typical of what we had been seeing here: smaller YOY striped bass (42-43 mm). Perhaps the most impressive catch, however, was a school (35-40 fish) of YOY tessellated darters (26-32 mm).
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[Tessellated darters are a small perch, related to both the yellow perch and walleye. The teaching point they provide to students is in their wonderful camouflage, perfectly mimicking the sandy river bottom where they are most often found. If you snorkel these areas you will never see them. They poise motionless on the bottom, their finger-length bodies propped up on their pelvic fins, until they "dart" out to capture a shrimp or small amphipod. Tom Lake.]

7/8 - Newburgh, HRM 60: A young male black bear, estimated to weigh about 200 pounds, was spotted in a tree in downtown Newburgh. NYSDEC Wildlife staff tranquilized the bear and safely transferred it to more appropriate habitat in the Catskills.
- Tom Lake

[The appearance of young black bears wandering through yards, crossing roads, and investigating backyard barbeques and bird feeders is an annual spring and early summer occurrence along the Hudson River. These yearling bears, mostly males, move north from northern New Jersey and east from the Catskills looking to establish their own territory. Tom Lake.]

7/8 - Crugers, HRM 39: At dusk we drove down to Ogilvie's Pond in search of the great blue heron. Disappointed that it wasn't standing in its usual spot atop a large flat tree, we almost missed seeing the beautiful black-crowned night heron perched on a branch that curved out over the water. Its short legs, stocky build, light colored breast and black cap made identification easy for us. As darkness fell, it remained still and probably didn't begin its hunting until after we left.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

7/9 - Cornwall Bay, HRM 58: Following another day of oppressive heat and humidity, the predictable thunderstorms began to develop in late afternoon. A huge "wall cloud," black as night, moved over Storm King Mountain emitting lightning and rolls of thunder. The cloud had a surreal, H.G. Wells War of the Worlds look. Broad curtains of heavy rain extended upward from the mountaintop, disappearing into the black cloud. For nearly an hour, strong east winds whipped the bay into a froth as more than an inch of rain fell. The storm finally moved off, the sun reappeared, and with it came another round of oppressive heat and humidity.
- Tom Lake

7/9 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We patiently waited for the thunderstorm to subside before moving onto the beach. Wading into the river (79 degrees F) was a welcome relief from the heat. We hauled our net more times than necessary to see who was home, just to stay wet. Each inspection of our catch following a haul revealed the same mix of YOY fishes: alewives (38-42 mm), striped bass (32-51 mm), and spottail shiners (31-33 mm). Repeated hauls such as these over the last week at various locations reaffirmed to us the special role of the estuary as a nursery for many Hudson River fishes.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson, Phyllis Lake

7/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: The Boyz at the Bridge tell me that the osprey nest on the Tappan Zee light tower is a "condo!" It is huge. I think it may be time that we put up some osprey nesting platforms along the estuary.
- Christopher Letts

[The Boyz at the Bridge are an eclectic mix of both men and women whose common bond is social interaction. While they number a dozen or more individuals, rarely are more than four or five present at any one time. Some of them are retired, but others arrive from their night jobs, extended coffee breaks, or long lunch hours to spend five minutes or an hour, touching base, learning the latest. The bridge is the Croton-on-Hudson railroad trestle over the mouth of the Croton River, where it meets Croton Bay. The setting is a bench at the village boat launch where canoes, kayaks and car-toppers are set into the Croton River. The dirt, sand, and gravel launch is a conduit for stories from crabbers, fishermen, paddlers, birdwatchers, and river lovers. Seasonally the air is filled with ospreys and eagles, shorebirds and wading birds, sunrises, sunsets, and storms. These, in and of themselves, provide context for the stories told and retold. Christopher Letts.]

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