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Hudson River Almanac August 13 - August 19, 2013

OVERVIEW

This week brought the return of an invasive crustacean, the Chinese mitten crab, that we had not seen in several years. Beginning in 2007, mitten crabs spread up the estuary a hundred miles or more. Then they seemed to disappear. While this week's discovery was only a single crab, logic dictates there are more. As counterpoint, an immature little blue heron, a very uncommon visitor, spent the week in the Wappinger Creek watershed.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/19 - Annandale, HRM 98.5: We went down to the Saw Kill (Bard College Campus) this morning to remove fish from our eel ladder. When we were finished, we explored the mouth of the Saw Kill where we collected a shed exoskeleton of a Chinese mitten crab. We believe that this was the first seen in the Hudson since 2010. This is certainly not the only one in the Hudson and everyone with eyes on the water should be aware that mitten crabs are still around!
- Bob Schmidt, Kathy Schmidt

An illustration of a chinese mitten crab, named after it's furry claws

[The Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) is native to the estuaries of China where it is highly regarded in the market. Mitten crabs spend much of their life in freshwater, then return to higher salinities in the lower estuary - 15-20 parts-per-thousand [ppt] salt - to reproduce. The salinity gradients of east coast estuarine systems like Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and the Hudson River are nearly ideal for them. Adult mitten crabs have a carapace width of about 3", but six of its eight legs are almost twice as long, giving them an appearance reminiscent of spider crabs. Unlike the native blue crab, a swimming crab, mitten crabs are burrowing crabs. They have a generalist diet, and their potential ecological impacts on our estuaries are still unknown.

The Chinese mitten crab has been an invasive species in Europe for a decade or more. It is illegal to import mitten crabs into the United States, but there is genetic evidence that the east coast mitten crabs arrived here from Europe via commercial shipping, much like zebra mussels. The Mitten Crab Network, a partnership among several state, federal and research organizations, is collecting data to determine the status, abundance and distribution of this species. DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources has agreed to collect and hold specimens for genetics testing to determine the origin of individuals caught in the Hudson River.

If you catch a Chinese mitten crab, do not release it back to the water. Keep it and freeze it (preserve in alcohol if you can't freeze it). Note date and location caught (GPS coordinates preferred but pinpointed on a map is acceptable) and how you caught it. If possible, take close-up photos, one of the top of the crab and one of the bottom (the latter helps in determining sex). You may e-mail photos to SERCMittenCrab@si.edu for identification. Persons collecting and holding a Chinese mitten crab must, within 48 hours of collecting the CMC, contact one of the following individuals:

Hudson River below George Washington Bridge, New York Harbor, and Long Island Sound: Kim McKown, NYS DEC Division of Fish Wildlife and Marine Resources Crustacean Unit, 631-444-0454;
Hudson River above George Washington Bridge: Sarah Fernald, NYS DEC Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, Hudson River Research Reserve, 845-889-4745.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/13 - Selkirk, HRM 135: Well before dawn I heard a series of yips and howls. I had to go out on the porch to be sure of what I was hearing. Coyotes. I have not heard them since the last blue moon, which I believe was last August. I am glad they are still around. The first bird chirp this morning was at 5:37 a.m., later and later every day.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

An immature little blue heron wading through water chestnut beds

8/13 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: From Fisherman's Park, I spotted an immature little blue heron on Wappinger Lake. The bird was feeding in the water chestnut, then flew farther away and perched on a dead branch. Little blues wander beyond their breeding range this time of year, only occasionally showing up here.
- Ken Harris

[While adult little blue herons are indeed blue, first year juveniles are white like egrets. During the transition to adult plumage, their patchy mix of dark and white colors has led to them being called calico, pied, or piebald herons. Steve Stanne. Photo of immature little blue heron by Terry Hardy.]

8/13 - Putnam County, HRM 55: Out looking for the Perseid heavenly display we were treated to two barred owls calling back and forth. Picking our native wineberries has been a joy this year. The bushes have been very prolific, with good juicy berries. The birds have been taking their share as well. Large numbers of dragonflies as well as giant swallowtails and eastern black swallowtails have been flitting about. They love the garden phlox now blooming.
- Connie Mayer-Bakall

8/14 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: After hearing a report of a young little blue heron, we ventured up to Wappinger Lake to see if we could find it. There was no sign of it on the Fisherman's Park side of the lake, but we did see three green herons and two great blues. On the opposite side of the lake we found it, fishing in the water chestnut. Two more green herons also came down; they were so well camouflaged in the water chestnut that if we looked away for second it was hard to spot them again.
- Jamie Collins

8/14 - Crugers, HRM 39: We were delighted to find that there were now two great blue herons in our neighborhood: the resident of Ogilvie's Pond and another one in a smaller pond on the corner of our street. After we discovered the new heron, we went to Ogilvie's Pond to be sure we weren't looking at that bird. Sure enough, it was there, perched on a branch overlooking the water, preening its feathers. It wasn't alone. A beautiful black-crowned night heron was perched in the crotch of a tall tree several feet from the great blue. We watched for more than half-an-hour, during which time it didn't move a feather. As dusk approached, we waited for the heron to do its night hunting, as the name implies, but it just sat there like a statue as the great blue continued to preen.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

8/14 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Soon after dawn, there seemed to be a mourning dove staging right at the entrance to the Point (at least 30 birds). Passing by later, the doves were gone but a red-tailed hawk was there on the ground. It took off with feathers scattering everywhere - one less mourning dove.
- Larry Trachtenberg

8/14 - Ossining, HRM 33: In early morning I spotted a single semipalmated plover among the gulls on a spit exposed by the dropping tide. This was a new one for me at Ossining.
- Larry Trachtenberg

8/15 - Clinton Corners, HRM 85: We walked down to a local lake this evening. Sunset was burnishing the breasts of swallows chasing down insects on the wing, dipping into the water at times. Then we noticed an exceptionally large wasp cruising low over the sand. It landed nearby, entered a burrow that had a pile of freshly excavated sand (darker than the surrounding sand) outside the entrance hole, similar to fiddler crabs. Once we saw the first one, we noticed many others flying to and from solitary burrows. Each was flying solo, in a placid way, totally preoccupied with their task and oblivious to us even as we approached the burrows to peer down at them. We couldn't see anything visible being carried into or out of the holes. Their markings were very distinct: reddish-brown on the head and wing area, then black with yellow bands around the rest. These were cicada killer wasps that feed on periodical cicadas, gentle giants as far as humans are concerned. Males cannot sting; the females will only if you actually step on them.
- Pat Joel, Bill Joel

8/15 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I could hardly believe what the two hummingbirds were doing. They had swooped and jousted over the spout of a feeder, nearly piercing each other with their beaks. Suddenly they were both feeding at the tiny hole, one bird piggy-back on the other, both fluttering their wings full speed. They drank and drank like that, one atop the other until disturbed by a yellow jacket.
- Robin Fox

8/15 - Bedford, HRM 35: We only counted a moderate number of raptors at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today: two ospreys and two broad-winged hawks.
- Arthur Green, Tait Johansson

[The observation point for the hawkwatch at Chestnut Ridge is at an elevation of about 770 feet, with a 180-degree view oriented to the east. Birders have been observing migrating raptors from Chestnut Ridge since at least 1978. Tait Johansson.]

8/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I spotted my first merlin of the season (possibly an immature) early this morning, perched in a willow along the road up to the nature center at Enoch's Neck. I could see some nice barring on its tail when it flew to another tree.
- Larry Trachtenberg

8/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: Crawling up the hubcap of my car was what looked like the biggest "bee" I had ever seen. Upon inspection, we confirmed that it was a cicada killer wasp. Neither of us had seen one in quite awhile, and it was impressive!
- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart

8/16 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: I stopped by Wappinger Lake and counted six green herons. That is the most I have seen there in all the years I have been taking photos.
- Terry Hardy

8/16 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The handful of anglers and crabbers were pretty much coming up empty today. There was no appreciable salt (not discernible by taste, which would be about 3.0 ppt). A very dead, 3 lb. freshwater drum lay on the tideline at the swimming beach.
- Christopher Letts

8/16 - Bedford, HRM 35: The raptor counts picked up a bit today at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch: four ospreys, eleven broad-winged hawks, and two bald eagles.
- Arthur Green

8/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: Today was a first for us: spotting a bald eagle in the summertime! As we drove north on Riverside Avenue this morning, we saw a beautiful adult bald eagle soaring overhead, its contrasting black-and-white colors clearly visible against the vibrant blue sky. We watched as it headed toward the river and disappeared from sight.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

8/16 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 12.5: The rose mallows and field bindweed by the inlet still had some blooms; they don't produce as many as their relatives grown in gardens, but they needn't fear comparison. On the path up through the Clove, the jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) now had many yellow-orange blossoms, while atop the ridge - now that the day-lilies and the few pasture roses were no longer blooming - sunflowers had taken over providing spots of bright color, while Pennsylvania smartweed added bits of bubble-gum pink along every path. Common dayflower (Commelina communis) was also in bloom; its little blue-and-white flowers with yellow anthers and long, curving pistils are gems that I think often go unnoticed. And celandine (Chelidonium majus) now had yellow blossoms, making it easy to tell it from meadow-rue. A big surprise was a plant that I think is long-tube valerian (Valeriana pauciflora), though it's not supposed to be found here. I came upon the second fern I've found in this park; I've decided it's a marginal woodfern (Dryopteris marginalis). Though the burdock blossoms seem to be done, I saw a tiger swallowtail visiting one.
- Thomas Shoesmith

8/17 - Minerva, HRM 284: We just had our first sighting of a bobcat in the "back forty" in about fifteen years! We and our clueless dogs were walking out in the back along a ponded area this evening when we spotted something 50 yards ahead of us on a dirt road. The cat high-tailed it, but we had a good look. It was a beautiful bobcat, obviously more interested in escaping than wondering about us. Our American bittern has been all over the wetland area; we see him along the roadside, flapping out of a small marshy area and heading over to the other side of the bog.
- Mike Corey, Sue Montgomery Corey

8/17 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: I looked up from my bean patch to see three broad-winged hawks rising, spiraling up, over our yard. These were the first I had seen this season.
- Christopher Letts

8/17 - Bedford, HRM 35: Our first migrating adult broad-winged hawks and an adult Cooper's hawk passed at height directly over the watch platform this morning at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Previously we have only counted residents and dispersing juveniles. We also recorded thirteen common nighthawks, only two of which were seen during normal count hours.
- Arthur W. Green

8/18 - Crugers, HRM 39: This was a day for herons. We visited Ogilvie's Pond and were surprised to see not only the great blue heron, but also a beautiful green heron perched on a low branch hanging over the water. At dusk we passed by the same spot and there were now two great blue herons and a black-crowned night heron in the pond. The black-crowned perched on the same branch where the green heron had been earlier in the day. It was quite actively preening its feathers, as was one of the great blues that sat atop a flat tree close by.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

8/18 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had increasing raptor numbers at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today: nine ospreys, thirteen broad-winged hawks, two bald eagles, and another Cooper's hawk.
- Arthur W. Green, Tait Johansson

8/18 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: In midday and again in the evening, Karalyn Lamb and Charlie Roberto found an upland sandpiper on the landfill. There were still good numbers of bobolink and grasshopper sparrows, both perching nicely, and a few savannah sparrows. We also flushed a first fall northern harrier and had a peregrine falcon fly over.
- Larry Trachtenberg

8/18 - Manhattan, HRM 2: Minutes before joining my co-leader and this week's Hudson River Park WILD! group for our Sunday morning walk in Hudson River Park, I noticed a very small, somewhat gull-like bird on the surface of the river just north of Pier 40. It was a red-necked phalarope. It remained for nearly three hours and was seen again later below Pier 40, near the PATH ventilation tower pier.
- Walter Laufer, Keith Michael

[New York birders usually have to take boat trips offshore to see this little bird (no more than eight inches long). According to the Birds of North America Online, "the red-necked phalarope, a member of the shorebird family, is functionally among the world's smallest seabirds...it spends up to nine months of the year at sea, riding on a raft of dense belly plumage and feeding on tiny planktonic invertebrates... Red-necked phalaropes are famous, as are the other two species of phalarope, for lifting aquatic prey within reach by rapidly spinning in tight circles in a manner reminiscent of a slightly demented toy." Steve Stanne.

8/18 - Manhattan, HRM 1.5: Late in the day, the red-necked phalarope was still swimming and feeding among the pilings of derelict Pier 32, directly off Hudson River Park by Canal and Watts Streets, just south of the Holland Tunnel.
- Anders Peltomaa

8/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35: A flock of a dozen peep sandpipers flushed ahead of my truck and swirled away over the water before I could even guess as to what species I was enjoying. Great egrets and great blue herons stalked the shoreline, and the osprey family continued to revisit their nest atop the cell phone tower.
- Christopher Letts

8/19 - Bedford, HRM 35: Similar numbers again today at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch: twelve ospreys, fourteen broad-winged hawks, two bald eagles, an American kestrel, and a Cooper's hawk.
- Arthur W. Green, Tait Johansson

8/19 - Croton River, HRM 34: Four sandpipers were foraging along the edge of the boat launch near the railroad bridge. It took some time to maneuver close enough to identify them as they were being harassed and pursued by house sparrows. The peeps turned out to be least sandpipers.
- Christopher Letts

8/19 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 12.5: A brief walk into the park yielded what seemed like a surprisingly early winter mourning warbler. The bird had an incomplete gray hood with a tangy yellow throat. The yellow continued uninterrupted through the breast, belly, and under tail coverts which were quite long. The lower mandible was pale flesh-colored and it had a thin whitish eye ring that may be only slightly broken. Conveniently, the bird seems to favor the brushy tangle of jewelweed and saplings at the main ground level entrance into the woods. Other migrants in the area included black-and-white warbler, rose-breasted grosbeak, and ruby-throated hummingbird.
- Nadir Souirgi

8/19 - Manhattan, HRM 2: The red-necked phalarope, discovered yesterday by Walter H. Laufer, was seen feeding this morning in the Hudson River beside Hudson River Park in the West Village between Piers 40 and 35 (Morton Street to West 10th Street).
- Keith Michael

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