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Hudson River Almanac July 10 - July 16, 2013

OVERVIEW

Midsummer often features butterflies and this week we heard of a plethora of swallowtails and a dearth of monarchs. These two butterflies have far different life histories, with monarchs seemingly the more fragile. As we head into the last two months of summer we are wondering if monarchs are really scarce this year, or we are just not taking notice.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/11 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Our two granddaughters visited in the waning days of June and lost no time in getting to the garden. Their sharp eyes caught movement in the parsley bed, and soon we were feeding parsley to a couple of fat and beautiful caterpillars ensconced in a quart jar with a ventilated lid. The insects gobbled parsley nonstop for 48 hours, and then went strangely quiet. We left them for a day to find that they had pupated when we returned. The girls went home, and I took the lid off the jar, though I had no idea how long this stage of their lives would last. We were amazed and delighted today to find two fresh and lovely black swallowtails drying their wings on the windowsill. They trustingly held to our finger for a trip outdoors where they transferred to a shrub. Pictures taken, wings dried, they lofted up and away.
- Christopher Letts

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/10 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The 11.25 inches of rain that had fallen in June and so far in July have not been beneficial to our local common loon population. We have had five failed nests on three lakes (on one lake, the pair made three nesting attempts). All the failures were due to flooding. We are still holding out hope that our one remaining nest will successfully produce a chick. Two eggs are in the nest and our fingers are crossed. The high water in the lakes and marshes has me wondering if other birds that nest low to the ground, like the common yellowthroat, are having nest failures as well. On the positive side, we have been seeing a fair number of turkey poults of varying sizes and a handful of ruffed grouse chicks, so some bird species have managed to successfully reproduce despite the wet conditions.
- Charlotte Demers

7/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The immature from eagle nest NY62, now in its fourth week on the wing, is still spending much time in the area. Today he flew around the nest tree several times and appeared to be hanging out along the river in the same trees as the fledglings from the last two years. The adults show up on occasion; we hear them more than see them.
- Terry Hardy

[I have been struck by what I sense in this immature as self-assurance. In years past, we have had seen fledglings that clung to Mama for a month and more. Some never seemed to gain complete confidence until they finally just leave. Tom Lake.]

7/10 - Peekskill, HRM 43: Authorities chased a black bear, a cub judging from media photos, around downtown Peekskill in an effort to steer the bear back into the woods. The outcome of that effort was unclear and further reports of the bear have not surfaced. It was speculated that it might be the same "small bear" reported roaming the south end of Ossining and in Briarcliff Manor near the Sleepy Hollow Country Club in June.
- Carol Capobianco

7/10 - Pleasantville, HRM 32: We've frequently encountered a lone red squirrel in our yard, but today there were two chasing after each other. At first we guessed they were young playing, but it turned out they had procreation in mind. Right in the middle of the act (performed on the ground near the trunk of our chestnut tree) a third squirrel approached. The male chased the interloper off with angry imprecations, but on returning to his task he discovered that the female was quite finished with him. No one seemed totally satisfied.
- Sharon AvRutick and Joe Wallace

A tiger swallowtail butterfly displays its wings while resting on pavement

7/11 - Beacon, HRM 61: I began counting tiger swallowtails as I walked Long Dock Park and by the time I had roamed the entire beach the number was at thirteen. Unlike monarchs, swallowtails seem almost curious of us, fluttering close by, not at all intimidated by our size. Many of the ones I counted took time to dip for a drink into tidepools left by the mid-morning low tide. [Photograph of tiger swallowtail by Steve Stanne.]
- Tom Lake

7/11 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Although it's high summer now, my yard doesn't look like it. My vegetable garden has been razed by rabbits (cottontails) and a woodchuck, mowing down the lettuce, arugula, beans, parsley and sugar snaps, leaving me with empty patches of dirt and a couple of struggling tomato plants.
- Robin Fox

7/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Good news for at least one pair of common loons: two chicks hatched today on one of our survey lakes. Of the eight lakes that we survey for loon reproductive success, this is the only one so far to successfully hatch eggs this year. The other nests have all been flooded out. Phoebes and other bird species are on their second broods but the bluebirds in my yard hatched five eggs just yesterday. Black flies were almost nonexistent now but the deer flies were out in full force. Blueberries were ripe and plentiful. The raspberry crop has been a bit of a disappointment - lots of blossoms but only a fair amount of berries.
- Charlotte Demers

7/12 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: I often see one or two pileated woodpeckers feeding in the forests surrounding my home but was surprised this morning to see a flock of four navigating together and then all lighting on a dead cherry tree outside my living room window. A family? Adults and fledglings? What a treat!
- Ted Fink

[According to the Birds of North America Online, pileated woodpeckers raise only one brood annually. After fledging, parents and siblings stay in same vicinity. Once young can fly well, they follow adults everywhere. All young may stay with both parents, or parents may split up and each take some of young. The young woodpeckers leave their parents in fall. Steve Stanne.]

7/12 - Poughquag, Town of Beekman, HRM 71: I wondered if what I was seeing over the past two weeks was just a localized phenomena. Fireflies in the neighborhood were more abundant than I recall in two decades. The trees in the backyards and woods look like they were trimmed with holiday blinking lights.
- Brian Herbst

7/12 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This year my much anticipated "hummingbird festival" of riotous little birds consists of four individuals, only one a male - far different from past years when there were often fifteen and more birds sitting on the fence and in the bushes waiting to feed and joust.
- Robin Fox

7/12 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: While the gray fox is now a regular fixture on our property, it is no less wondrous when seen or heard, which is almost every day now for the past two to three weeks. We are pretty sure there is a pair. Their calls at night are not quite howls but are scary sounding and would fit right in on a late October full moon evening. They have shown a particular interest in foraging in our compost, with a sweet tooth for chicken bones. Their presence has changed the routine of our cat; it will no longer go out at night but waits until daylight to prowl around.
- Scott P. Horecky

7/12 - Croton River, HRM 34: The common loon summering on the Croton River and in Croton Bay was inside the railroad bridge this morning. Although the fishing must be good, it spends more time by far grooming and snoozing than fishing.
- Christopher Letts

7/13 - Hudson Valley: As far as we can tell, there have been extremely few sightings of monarchs this year. I did see one on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail about halfway between Gardner and New Paltz three days ago. It was fluttering around a milkweed on the west side of the trail.
- Tom Sarro

[Monarch butterflies bred in the Hudson River watershed migrate south as much as 2,700 miles to a wintering location in a mountain forest near Mexico City. They arrive in large numbers to the same roosts, often to the exact same trees. The length of the journey far exceeds the lifetime of a single monarch, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer. The last generation of the summer lives up to seven months, during which time it migrates to the wintering location. This generation does not reproduce until it leaves the following spring. How monarchs manage to return to the same wintering locale over a span of several generations is a mystery. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall. Tom Lake.]

7/13 - Constitution Marsh, HRM 52: A hot day, but not as humid as we had feared as we paddled our canoe through the marsh with an Audubon guide. Pickerelweed was blooming, but not blue flag nor swamp mallow; arrowhead and cattails were abundant as always. While efforts were proceeding to remove the invasive phragmites, invasive water chestnut is spreading. We saw a black-crowned night heron, at least four great blue herons, a turkey vulture, and a couple of red-winged blackbirds, and heard several marsh wrens and a vireo, all very much like the "Eastern Marsh Birds" diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Our guide also pointed out a marsh wren nest, a muskrat lodge, a beaver lodge, an otter slide, and a bald eagle nest. Unfortunately, none of the residents were in view.
- Thomas Shoesmith, Donna Mendell

7/13 - New City, Rockland County, HRM 33: Everywhere we looked there were swallowtail butterflies. The first two we spotted were in the garden on the Echinacea flowers. We saw several more as we walked around the neighborhood, then another few as we ventured farther into the neighboring streets. Swallowtails seemed to follow us, delicately gliding by or stopping atop a flower for quick refreshment, escorting us as we walked.
- Margie Turrin, Brent Turrin

7/14 - Catskill, HRM 113: My friend who captains the Spirit of Hudson paddlewheel boat has seen a five-foot-long sturgeon jumping near the mouth of the Catskill Creek. He seems to think it is the same fish since he's seen it twice in the same spot. He also had a sighting ten miles downriver near Esopus Creek.
- Fran Martino

[Sturgeon are the stuff of myth and legend. In terms of evolution, they are a very ancient class of cartilaginous (non-bony) fishes whose present form dates back at least a hundred million years. Among their many unusual behavioral traits is a predilection for jumping clear out of the water, similar to the breaching behavior common to porpoises, dolphins, and whales. Sturgeon can leap several feet out of the water and then land with a large and loud splash. There are Hudson River records of sturgeon leaping and landing in canoes and fishing boats. While drift-netting for American shad twenty years ago, Chris Lake and I had a five-footer leap, land on the gunnel of our boat, teeter, and then topple back into the river. Why they leap is a mystery. It may be a way to rid themselves of external parasites or to take in air to fill their swim bladder. Biologists are unsure. Tom Lake.]

7/14 - Croton River, HRM 34: We watched an osprey circle over the water near the Croton-Harmon train station parking lot, dive, and come up with a goldfish that was surely a foot long. I started to wonder, was there a relationship between the time the goldfish became scarce, and ospreys became common? With that coloration and size, it might well be the perfect prey item for our fishing hawks.
- Christopher Letts

[Goldfish: I can remember when goldfish, presumably released from dime store tanks, were quite common all up and down the river. In the gloomy waters of midsummer it was always possible to walk the docks and finger piers in the marinas and spot those ghostly orange forms in the vegetation. Riverman Everett Nack featured them on his business card. He seined them in the spring for the summer people to put into ponds and fountains. Then they all but disappeared. The last one I recall stunned a classroom of Nyack kids when it leaped over the seine at Nyack Beach - a furrow in the water, a splash, gleam of orange, and gone. Christopher Letts.]

7/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: When gray squirrels walk slowly, lifting one foot at a time, it is hot. My weeks of eating breakfast during my walk were finished for this year: 95 percent of the mulberries I have enjoyed for three weeks were off the trees. There are still enough to keep less discerning creatures interested, and the canopy is filled with songbirds. I get a kick out of seeing a flock of mallards, far from water, gleaning the last of the harvest. Just as mulberry season closed out, wineberry season opened. There is a unusually lush crop this year. If they aren't as good as raspberries, well, there are lots of them and they are easy picking.
- Christopher Letts

7/15 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: After a day of burning hot weather, tonight's sunset looked like everything really was on fire, sort of a "Magritte-like" effect. A blazing red sky hung over deep, dark woods where lightning bugs sparkled.
- Robin Fox

[Rene François Ghislain Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist. Tom Lake.]

7/16 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: In the heat of the day, while birds seem to go into hiding, just a few minutes before noon I saw an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (female, I think, because it had an orange "marginal spot") and a green darner dragonfly. The butterfly was drinking moisture from a freshly seeded patch of lawn, not far from my front door. The dragonfly was at the other side of the house, on a sunny leaf of one of the rhododendrons.
- Phyllis Marsteller

A fish known as a croaker in a person's hand

7/16 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: We got a head start on our River Days Fish Count (7/20) at the Kathryn W. Davis River Walk Center with Phyllis Bock and her Explorers group from Teatown Lake Reservation. The water temperature was very high (85 degrees Fahrenheit), but salinity was low for this site at 1.8 parts-per-thousand. Our catch included plenty of white perch, hogchokers, and blue crabs, about five young-of-the-year [YOY] bluefish, at least ten very small YOY striped bass, a YOY Atlantic menhaden, one YOY winter flounder, and several small Atlantic croakers, a fish I had not seen previously in the Hudson, though it's not really rare. [Photograph of Atlantic croaker from Wikimedia Commons.]
- Steve Stanne

[Croakers are a member of a family of fishes that, in the estuary, also includes freshwater drum, black drum, northern kingfish, spot, weakfish, and silver perch. Most of them have highly specialized swim bladders that serve as sound-producing organs. This has led to the colloquial family name of drum. One of the teen-aged Explorers remarked that a croaker "purred" when he picked it up. C. Lavett Smith, Steve Stanne.]

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