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Hudson River Almanac August 6 - August 12, 2013

OVERVIEW

Sightings of a Manx shearwater and an American avocet along the estuary this week reminded us to expect the unexpected on a river that is connected to the sea and is also a north-south flyway. Either one of these birds would have made this an extraordinary week.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/7 - Chelsea, HRM 65.4: A Manx shearwater was spotted and photographed by Walter Joseph in the middle of the Hudson River this afternoon. Walter was able to observe the bird for at least 20 minutes. This was a first for Dutchess County.
- Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club

[Shearwaters are truly seabirds. They, like others of their kind including albatrosses and storm petrels, spend nearly their entire lives out on the open ocean. They come to land only to nest, on islands inaccessible to terrestrial predators. The Manx shearwater is named for the Island of Man between England and Ireland. In North America, it is currently known to nest regularly only on an island off Newfoundland, though there is one nesting record from an island off Cape Cod, and unconfirmed speculation that breeding has occurred in Narragansett Bay, on Gulf of Maine islands, and on rocky islets in Long Island Sound. Rich Guthrie, Steve Stanne.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/6 - North Greenbush, HRM 143: I spotted a newcomer to our woods, an orchard oriole, perched at the tippy top of a large spruce. It took some sleuthing to figure out who he was, but his dark coppery orange chest and beautiful song helped in the end. Later, while working in the garden, much to my delight I came across a praying mantis perfectly camouflaged, posing upside down on a tomato leaf.
- Audrey Van Genechten

8/6 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 137.5: I purposely allow milkweeds to grow in the perennial bed behind my house. Yet, in sixteen years, I have never seen one monarch caterpillar on them.
- Wilma Johnson

8/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: The blackbirds have been starting to flock at our feeders, in greater numbers each day. So far there have been red-wings, grackles and cowbirds. It seems early, but it is a welcome sight for us, because it means that autumn, our favorite season, is right around the corner.
- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart

8/6 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Shortly after sunrise I went for a walk along the lower Wappinger Creek. I watched a single great blue heron fishing in the water chestnut; a short while later a second one came flying down but was quickly ushered away by the first one. Walking on I looked up to see two belted kingfishers circling and vocalizing very loudly. Continuing, I saw a third great blue fishing before I hiked into Reese Park. At the pond in the park there were a pair of wood ducks and a fourth great blue perched above them. As I walked along the main path, I heard some crashing behind me and turned to see a young white-tailed deer running out of the trees. As I rounded the next bend in the trail, I was greeted by a coyote facing me 30 feet away, licking moisture off the dew-drenched grass. I froze, but seconds later it saw me and sprinted off into the forest.
- Jamie Collins

8/6 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: A single osprey was perched in a much-used feeding perch cottonwood at the base of the point. The new moon tide was up and hunting would have to wait for a few hours.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

An adult blue crab spreads out all ten appendages on a burlap sack

8/6 - Cold Spring, HRM 54: We watched as Teresa Cioppa caught blue crabs in her collapsible traps baited with cut eel. The crabs, coming up at a rate of one a minute, were "cookie cutter" crabs, all five-inch carapace width - "number twos" in market parlance. [Photo of blue crab by Steve Stanne.]
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Blue crab sizes (carapace width) for both personal consumption and marketing:
- Jumbos are the biggest and the best of the catch, the prime market crab (seven inches plus).
- #1 Jimmies are the next largest crab and most commonly caught size (six inches plus).
- #2 are smaller crabs but marketable, the minimum market size (five to five-and-a-half inches).
- Throwbacks are those that are less than five inches.
The bag limit is 50 per person. Tom Lake.]

8/6 - Annsville Bay, HRM 44: I had very interesting rides to work this week. Day One: In the backwaters of Annsville Creek across from Camp Smith, there were seven great blue herons wading and feeding.
- Owen Sullivan

8/7 - Newburgh, HRM 61: We watched the wind whip up the river and a cloudburst obscure the downriver view for a while this evening, as we were strolling along the Newburgh waterfront. As I stopped to sketch a friendly duck that was following people along the sidewalk, my husband asked me to identify some birds down by the water's edge. I turned to see two striking black-and-white birds of a kind I had never seen before. I did a couple of quick sketches, along with some notes and photos to help identify them. I then ran to our car for my field guide: American avocets! We went back to watch them for a few more minutes until they flew off low over the water, headed downriver toward Beacon or Cold Spring.
- Melissa Fischer, Stephen Fischer

An american avocet wades in water several inches deep

[American avocets are among the prettiest of shorebirds. They are usually found in the South during the winter, from Georgia through Mexico, or in the West in summer, New Mexico to British Columbia to Manitoba. However they have been seen more frequently along the Atlantic Coast during the past 30 years, particularly from August to October. In colonial times, they nested in southern New Jersey and at other spots near the East Coast. However, after the mid-1800s they became exceedingly rare in the East. It has only been with the preservation of coastal marshes that avocets have been able to slowly expand their post-breeding wanderings; they now occur along the coast to New England every fall but do not nest here. They have been previously reported from Orange County. Avocets feed by sweeping their long, slender, upturned bills back and forth along mudflats and shallow water. Their tall, thin legs immediately suggest that they are a wading bird. The body is black and white but the head, in breeding plumage, is a very distinctive cinnamon color. The cinnamon changes to gray as the birds molt after the nesting season. Stan DeOrsey. Photo of American avocet in breeding plumange courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]

8/7 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Under black clouds, a strong south wind was blowing up through the Highlands, pushing heavy rollers up on the beach. The wind was inching its way from southwest to southeast as a storm approached. Twenty summer camp students from the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum were there to help us sample the river under difficult conditions. The roily surf made our footing tricky and the pounding waves had the seine emptying more than collecting as it was lifted and carried in the current. After a half-dozen desperate hauls, we managed to catch some fish: white perch, spottail shiners, young-of-the-year [YOY] river herring (alewives), and a six-inch-long American eel. A very modest catch. The most promising indicator was the continued presence of the seaward-bound river herring 65-69 millimeters [mm] long. Several cool nights had lowered the river to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Carl Heitmuller, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

8/7 - Annsville Bay, HRM 44: Day Two: Today, the number of great blues increased to nine, joined by a single great egret in the backwaters of Annsville Creek across from Camp Smith.
- Owen Sullivan

8/7 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Summer was over, or at least the shorebird migration had begun. At different times on the beach, I saw an unidentified "peep" at a distance, spotted sandpipers and killdeer, and then some least sandpipers. Blue jays, scarce for months, were present, vociferous, and on the move.
- Christopher Letts

[Used by birders, the term "peep" encompasses the five smallest North American sandpipers (least, semipalmated, western, white-rumped, and Baird's sandpipers), which can be difficult to distinguish from one another. Steve Stanne.]

8/8 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was another day and another promise of a storm. A strong southeast wind in advance of an approaching cold front produced rollers on the beach so severe that we had difficulty deploying our seine. Our catch was meager until the final haul when we collected a small school of YOY gizzard shad (123-126 mm). The water temperature was 80 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[Gizzard shad, a herring, are not thought to be native to the Hudson River. They may have been introduced in the last half of the twentieth century, either by immigration through the New York State canal system from the Midwest, where they are native, or from southern coastal waters. They are common in the Delaware River. J.R. Greeley of the New York State Conservation Department did not find them in the lower Hudson during his 1937 biological survey. Tom Lake.]

8/8 - Annsville Bay, HRM 44: Day Three: The nine great blues in the backwaters of Annsville Creek across from Camp Smith were now eleven, still with the one great egret.
- Owen Sullivan

8/8 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Two adult red-tailed hawks, in the same area of the point where they had nested and fledged two young, did not seem to be as much in love as they were a few months ago. Today I saw both birds engaged in the alternate "perch hunting and dumpster diving" activities. One bird found a morsel under a picnic table; instantly the other bird was in hot pursuit. An hour later, I saw one bird again aggressively chasing the other. The memorable climax to this morning's observations came when one bird pursued the other low and within a few yards of me. As they passed I could see that each was carrying an eastern kingbird, perched on its back like a jockey and pecking nonstop at its back and neck.
- Christopher Letts

8/9 - Milan HRM 90: The cardinal flowers were in bloom! I counted four or five plants in a roadside drainage ditch, a lowly place for such a pretty flower.
- Marty Otter

8/9 - New Hamburg to Chelsea, HRM 68-65: The cold front-induced storm that had threatened for the last two days arrived at dawn with a vengeance: thunder, lightning, and visibility reduced to a few hundred feet. The torrential rain (6.65") almost immediately overwhelmed catch basins and flood plains. For several hours it was like standing under a waterfall. I searched the waterfront looking for either the avocets or the shearwater of two days ago with no success. They might have been close by and I would not have seen them unless they "waved." The deluge was so severe that the ring-billed gulls were shore-bound - a rare occasion for them.
- Tom Lake

[This was the second highest precipitation total we have recorded for Dutchess County in 20 years of the Almanac, exceeded only by Hurricane Irene (August 28, 2011) in which 8.03 inches were recorded. Irene left higher amounts at Shandaken (Ulster) 11.5, Tuxedo Park (Orange) 11.45, and Yonkers (Westchester) 8.15. National Weather Service.]

8/9 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: In early afternoon following the heavy rain, the river-bound channel of the tidal Wappinger looked like the Ganges of India. Wading birds were lined up on the many deadfalls stuck in the shallows. It was easy to spot two great blue herons and one great egret, but there were more. One, two, three, four black-crowned night herons were spread over less than an acre of water chestnut. All seven waders were high and dry and busy preening. It would be a while, maybe a day or two, before the tidewater would drop to a level that made fishing reasonable.
- Tom Lake

8/9 - Annsville Bay, HRM 44: Day Four: By today, the tide was up in the backwaters of Annsville Creek across from Camp Smith, making the depth unsuitable even for the tallest waders. Still, two great blue herons were working the shoreline.
- Owen Sullivan

8/10 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: Everywhere I looked this morning the coffee-colored waters were running high and hard. Wading birds were forced to abandon their waterside perches for higher ground. I spotted a "water bird" perched 60 feet off the creek and had to look again. What was it? Through binoculars it became an immature great cormorant. My initial confusion stemmed from seeing it perched so high off the water. Like all the other waterbirds along the creek, the cormorant was busy preening, its head constantly stuck in its feathers.
- Tom Lake

8/11- Beacon, HRM 61: As much as we have missed the monarchs this summer, almost as a counterpoint, swallowtails had taken up the slack. I counted fourteen in a half hour across a few hundred feet of beach. Most were tiger swallowtails, but there was one spicebush, one black, and a third that may have been a giant swallowtail.
- Tom Lake

8/11 - Annsville Bay, HRM 44: It was near dusk as we traveled Route 6/202 into northern Westchester County, reaching Annsville Bay where we noticed several great blue herons traipsing along the shoreline at low tide. Then we saw a few more farther out, and more and more. There were fourteen great blue herons in all, a river record for us.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

8/12 - Milan, HRM 90: We hear owls all the time, but last night was different. They started with a screech, followed by the normal hoots. Then the "talking" began: clucks, chirps, garbled barks, and many sounds that I can't describe - the vocal repertoire of the barred owl. Then silence.
- Marty Otter

8/12 - Westchester County, HRM 44: We did some investigation, prompted by Erik Kiviat of Hudsonia, into the 7/24 report of marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) in the wetlands at Camp Smith off Annsville Bay. It was determined that this was rather the common and native swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos).
- Tom Lake

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