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Hudson River Almanac July 31 - August 5, 2013

OVERVIEW

The Two-Row Wampum flotilla began their voyage down the Hudson this week in a spirit of brotherhood, stewardship, and ecological renewal. Also, at many events along the river, onlookers young and old had the opportunity to glimpse the summer migration of fishes heading seaward.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/31 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: When the first hummingbirds appeared in my garden at the beginning of May, I worried because I counted only four birds, not the crowds of previous years. In the last week, however, the annual "Festival of Hummingbirds" has commenced. Those first four must have fledged young and passed the word that the feeders were full at Robin's garden. I've tried to get a count at mid-day, but it's impossible. I count eleven hummingbirds sitting on the fence, in the bushes, at the feeders, all waiting. Then, by some known-only-to-them signal, bedlam breaks out and there appear to be at least three times the number of hummers whizzing, swirling, circling, jousting, battling, and flirting with each other. The flowers sway with the breeze created by their antics. Some pairs do a wondrous "dance," facing each other breast-to-breast, as they rise into the sky and disappear into the light. It's all an amazing show, and what a gift to have it again.
- Robin Fox

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/31 - Red Hook, HRM 96.5: Susan Gilnack, the Bluebird Trail Coordinator for the Waterman Bird Club, has had three giant swallowtails in her yard.
- Deb Kral

7/31 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I was out on the Hudson River with the Two-Row Wampum paddle on the reach from Norrie Point to Poughkeepsie. As we were waiting for things to get going from Norrie Point, I noticed a solitary monarch butterfly. It's the only one I've seen this year.
- Karin Limburg

[Two-Row Wampum is a symbolic re-enactment of a 1613 treaty between the Onondaga Indians [Haudenosaunee] and the colonial Dutch. This is the 400th anniversary of the treaty which promised, with mutual assurance, to treat the land, the water, and all that live there fairly. Participants began paddling on July 2 from Onondaga Creek, through Onondaga Lake to the Seneca River, and westward through the Mohawk River to the Hudson, then onward to New York City where they will arrive on August 9. Tom Lake.]

7/31 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: A very fresh-looking giant swallowtail had been fluttering frantically around my yard the past two days. It seemed to especially enjoy the butterfly bushes, where I was happy to find it sunning early this morning. Then there was a Galium white-lined sphinx on one of my daylily blooms. I also watched a big dragonfly, possibly one of the emeralds (I just couldn't get a good look at it, other than it was big and had deep emerald-colored eyes), as it sparred with one of my resident hummingbirds.
- Deb Kral

7/31 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: As my futile search for monarchs continued, I was attracted by a flash of color as a butterfly fluttered around the blossoms in my pumpkin patch this morning. The quick glimpse of orange had me thinking monarch for just an instant, but it was a great spangled fritillary on its way to the butterfly bushes.
- Tom Lake

7/31 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A dozen young students from the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum's "Camp Mastodon" were on hand to help us discover who was home in the river today. The river was calm, the water was warm (80 degrees Fahrenheit), and our seine was filled with fish. Among those with the best stories to tell were young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass 35-46 millimeters [mm] long and alewives (59-62 mm), as well as several mature male blue crabs (4-5" carapace width).
- Adam Harlec, Tom Lake

7/31 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: I watched the mature red-tailed hawk for half-an-hour this morning. It seemed to be combining scavenging and perch hunting in the lower picnic area. I saw it land on several trash cans and walk around the rim, peering in intently. It landed on picnic tables, walked around grill areas, and alternatively perched for a few minutes at a time on tree limbs. The mockingbirds and fish crows were very much in attendance, and very much ignored. Even when an eastern kingbird twice landed on its back while the hawk was in flight, riding it like a jockey and pecking, the larger bird seemed unperturbed. One hitchhiked ride lasted longer than ten seconds.
- Christopher Letts

7/31 - Croton River, HRM 34: The tide was very low at the railroad bridge at the mouth of the Croton River around noon today. Two immature double-crested cormorants were basking in the sunlight, perched on branches that stuck out of the water. In the inlet, mute swans, Canada geese, and many gulls were gathered together in the muddy area exposed by the low tide. Eventually the swans glided into the water and began ducking underneath for their lunch.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

8/1 - Pleasantdale-on-the-Hudson, HRM 162: In recent days, I have enjoyed watching a giant swallowtail feeding at a stand of bee balm.
- J. Bell

A double-crested cormorant with a thick yellow ID band wades in shallow waters

8/1 - Coeymans Landing, HRM 133.5: I came upon a color-banded (yellow tag with black lettering) double-crested cormorant at the Coeymans Landing Marina. Someone, somewhere, is doing a study on the dispersal of cormorants and this is one way to track them. The researcher is counting on folks to make note of the species, the location, and the color combination of the band(s). It may also be significant to indicate which leg the band is on. This bird was standing in shallow water, just enough to hide part of the alpha/numeric code, but the color combination should be enough to figure out where the bird came from. I sent the data into the government Bird Banding Laboratory to track down the source of this bird and when and where it was banded. When I get the details, I'll share the news. [Photo of banded double-crested cormorant by Rich Guthrie.]
- Rich Guthrie

8/1 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 41-35: At last the blue crabs have become plentiful and large. A generous friend gave us a dozen large and handsome "Jimmys" just in time for a true family summer dinner: sweet corn-on-the-cob, tomato salad, and all the crabs anyone could eat.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

[Atlantic blue crabs have several colloquial names known mainly to rivermen and crabbers: Adult males are called "Jimmys," mature females are called "Sooks," and immature females are known as "Sallys." Tom Lake.]

8/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The perplexed red-tailed hawk was at it again, so conflicted: "Am I a vulture or a raptor?" I watched as it combined scavenging around the picnic areas with perch hunting. When it flew, an eastern kingbird was again right on its back, clinging and pecking furiously, with the hawk ignoring it.
- Christopher Letts

8/2 - Rensselaer County, HRM 138: While sitting at a picnic table behind the snack bar on a deck over Nassau Lake, I could see beautiful yellow pond lilies in bloom. I heard a catbird nearby and a blue jay far off. The water was very murky, but when I dropped a small piece of my sandwich into it, about 30 bluegill sunfish came up to the surface to investigate. Then three hen mallards paddled over to beg a piece and the fish disappeared.
- Wilma Johnson

8/2 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: I watched and photographed an immature ring-billed gull with a small herring in its bill, likely one of many it had scavenged. Upon closer inspection of the photograph the prey turned out to be a YOY American shad.
- Rich Guthrie

8/2 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum runs a summer program series called "Animals and Nature Together" for children two to four years old as a way of introducing them to the other members of the world they live in. A dozen eager and future naturalists were there to help us as we seined the warm shallows (79 degrees F). As has been the norm in recent days, YOY river herring (alewives) dominated our catch. The varying sizes we catch each time (today's were 63-66 mm) suggests that there are many congregations of these ocean-bound fish, all with slightly different birthdays or dietary opportunities. The highlight for the young students was a seven-inch-long, brightly colored male redbreast sunfish. We checked for salinity and found that is was barely detectable, more like background noise. As we were leaving the beach a pair of spotted sandpipers cruised in, landed on the sand, and began foraging for snacks along the tideline.
- Tom Lake, Pam Golben

8/2 - Peekskill, HRM 43: A beautiful and apparently healthy red fox has taken up residence on the wooded hillside behind my condo. It was curled up asleep next to the base of a big oak tree when I stepped out onto my porch. It looked up at me for just a moment, then put its head down and went back to sleep. An hour later it woke up, yawned, and casually walked down the hill into the thicker brush. Its sleeping spot overlooks a very active cottontail rabbit hole 30 feet farther down the hill.
- Peter Schechter

8/3 - Beacon, HRM 61: We were planning a beach seining program for those attending the Two-Row Wampum riverside festival, but the vagaries of wind and tide were conspiring against us. The tide was too high and a strong wind out of the south kept the tide in and created rollers on the beach. Not the best conditions for seining. With a small but attentive crowd on the beach, we hauled a half-dozen times, caught only two species, but many of each: spottail shiners and YOY alewives (73-76 mm). Both had stories to tell. The former is a native freshwater fish, described and named (Notropis hudsonius) for the Hudson River by a former governor of New York State. The latter is an anadromous species that underlines the very essence of the estuary as a nursery for young fish. The river was 78 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[See Clinton, De Witt. 1824. Description of a new species of fish from the Hudson River. Annual Lyceum Natural History, N.Y. I:49-50. Tom Lake.]

8/4 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: During the summer months, I operate a 15 x 30 foot "insect collector" (backyard swimming pool). While it doesn't provide a comprehensive census of all the species in my neighborhood, I do see some trends. In June there were a couple of weeks when I was finding a lot of Japanese beetles in my skimmer; this week it's been cicadas, a dozen or more a day. This summer they seem to be present in greater numbers than I've seen in previous years (since 1998). Dragonflies were coming on strong as well. As twilight falls, the crickets have been starting their chorus, with katydids joining in as it gets darker. Fireflies seem to have peaked.
- Larry Roth

Three eastern phoebes, a small bird in the flycatcher family, huddled together on a dead branch

8/4 - Croton River: The summer resident common loon was languidly drifting and preening a hundred feet from the highway this morning. Three great egrets gave way to a great blue heron that wanted their resting place on a gravel bar. The ospreys were still visiting their cell tower nest.
- Christopher Letts

8/5 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: I was so thrilled to see that my eastern phoebes were having a family reunion on the horse paddock fence. The babies had fledged about two weeks ago from a nest they have had under the roof extension the past few years. Absolutely adorable! [Photo of phoebes by Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Deb Kral

8/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: They arrived just after dawn, sweeping loudly through the trees, conjuring images of a troupe of monkeys with their numbers and noise. Blue jays. At least 20, maybe more, sounding like rusty hinges on a metal door as they passed from tree to tree in the canopy of the woods, drowning out the clamor of the crows, and not lingering long enough to get the binoculars on any one bird. After just a few minutes they were gone.
- Tom Lake

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