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Hudson River Almanac August 27 - September 2, 2013

OVERVIEW

Autumn migration of raptors, shorebirds, butterflies, and fish highlighted the week. It was good to see an increased presence of monarchs on their long trek to wintering locations.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

8/30 - Manhattan, New York City: Bird life was scarce or hidden on a very warm and humid afternoon on Governors Island. The breeze off the Upper Bay helped considerably. As we moved to the west side of Castle William to find the breeze, we came upon a long scattering of blue crab parts, including legs, claws, and carapaces, on the walkway just inside the sea wall. What had captured these crabs, brought them here, and then disarticulated them in such a manner? Our first thought was heron, but the water off the sea wall is relatively deep, not typical heron hunting habitat. And if they had captured them elsewhere, why bring them here? We also considered black-backed or herring gulls, birds of a size and demeanor that could handle aggressive adult blue crabs.
- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Murray Fisher, director of the New York Harbor School on Governors Island, concurred with the "big gull" theory. Rich Guthrie reminded us that the yellow-crowned night-heron is sometimes referred to as a crab-eater (most herons are, given the opportunity). But how common are they in that area? Susan Elbin of New York City Audubon offered that yellow-crowned night-herons are becoming more common in the harbor. This year there were 58 pairs nesting in the vicinity of New York Harbor. Although most of them were on the mainland (40 pairs), eleven pairs nested on South Brother Island in the East River. Other suggestions are welcome! Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

8/27 - Beacon, HRM 61: After an inch of rain overnight (more than six inches for the month; more than 30 inches for the year), the path to the beach was a series of puddles. As we walked onto the beach, our first monarch of the year fluttered away, giving us only a momentary glimpse. Soon we had a small group on the beach, mostly children, so we began to seine the shallows to see who was home. Our catch was limited to young-of-the-year [YOY] blueback herring 55-57 millimeters [mm] long until our final haul when we caught a rather large YOY striped bass (115 mm). After thoroughly wetting their hands, the children were each given the opportunity to release a fish, making it a very personal experience. The water was 75 degrees Fahrenheit with barely measurable salinity.
- Grayson Weeden, Dune Weeden, Lars Weeden, T.R. Jackson, Tom Lake

8/27 - Bedford, HRM 35: Although today's numbers were modest at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, it seemed as if the high pressure spell was broken. Two broad-winged hawks (one adult, one juvenile) and a female American kestrel were a sure sign that migration had resumed. Cumulative numbers to date: osprey, 23; broad-winged hawk, 25.
- Arthur R. Green

A close-up shot of a cardinal flower in bloom

8/28 - Beacon, HRM 61: The beach at Long Dock Park was strewn with bits and pieces of craggy Hudson Valley limestone (children call them "moon rocks"). It was nice to see the usual parade of swallowtails cruising the beach with a couple of monarchs on the periphery. The native wildflowers and other plantings of Scenic Hudson's Meadow Restoration project are well worth the trip. From cardinal flowers to cattails, it is very colorful and impressive. [Photo of cardinal flower by Steve Stanne.]
- Tom Lake

8/28 - Bedford, HRM 35: Despite cloud cover, thermals remained brisk until early afternoon at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Although sometimes flying at respectable height, migrants remained easily discernible against background cloud cover without binoculars. An adult female northern harrier and an adult sharp-shinned hawk were our first observations of the season for those species. Cumulative numbers to date: osprey, 24; broad-winged hawk, 26.
- Arthur R. Green

8/29 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 567.5: We went in search of the recently and almost continuously sighted little blue heron in the Wappinger watershed. However, the tide was up on the lower creek, pretty much negating our chances (herons hunt more efficiently on low tide). The water was clear and as we watched along the shore, a wide wake came past nearly under our feet, giving us a good look at a huge fish. While there have been a few catches of northern pike here over the years, this was an impressive two-foot-long chain pickerel.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

8/29 - Bedford, HRM 35: As the morning fog and stratus ceiling began to recede at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, it was apparent that some raptors were already on the wing. A juvenile northern harrier was the first bird of the day, passing at a casual distance just north of the count site. A group of four ospreys materialized in and out of the mists southeast of the count site. Cumulative numbers to date: osprey, 29; broad-winged hawk, 27.
- Arthur R. Green

8/30 - Minerva, HRM 284: On an afternoon walk on the Roosevelt Truck Trail (two miles round trip) I spotted a broad-winged hawk, two black-backed woodpeckers (one a male), seven boreal chickadees, and several warbler species including a singing Blackburnian warbler.
- Joan Collins

8/30 - Beacon, HRM 61: What had been a quiet scene seconds before became pandemonium; gulls scattered in every direction and mallards did their best to fly into the landfill park among the trees. It was a merlin, a medium-sized falcon, cruising along the river's edge and terrorizing the waterfront.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

8/30 - Bedford, HRM 35: The impressive height of the juvenile osprey moving directly overhead in early afternoon at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch left me a little concerned that I might be missing birds, but I still came up empty-handed deep-scanning with my binoculars. Also spotted today were eight ruby-throated hummingbirds. Cumulative numbers to date: osprey, 35; broad-winged hawk, 28.
- Arthur R. Green

8/31- Saratoga Springs, HRM 186: It was a gray, very gloomy, and gooey (muddy track at Saratoga) day. During the races I spotted a migrating osprey flying over the infield, heading towards Union Avenue.
- Debi Kral

8/31 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had another reasonable showing of osprey during an otherwise spare day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Cloud cover kept a lid on thermal generation, and birds generally remained at a very casual altitude above the tree canopy. Even vultures seemed to flap often just to stay aloft. Also spotted were eleven migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds. Cumulative numbers to date: osprey, 40; broad-winged hawk, 28.
- Arthur R. Green, Gaelyn Ong

8/31 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I had a nice mixture of birds on a walk out to Teller's Point. Among them were warbling and red eyed vireos, blue-gray gnatcatchers, cedar waxwings, downy and hairy woodpeckers, northern flickers, Baltimore orioles, house and Carolina wrens, and a surprising red-breasted nuthatch. Among the warblers were yellow, yellow-rumped, pine, black-and-white, black-throated blue, American redstart, and one really confusing fall/immature warbler that had an inverted "V" peach color running down from its throat. Also spotted were an adult bald eagle and many ospreys.
- Larry Trachtenberg

A small shorebird known as the least sandpiper wades in reflective water

8/31 - Croton River, HRM 34: There was a least sandpiper, kingfisher, common loon, great blue heron and a great egret at the boat launch on the river. I have not seen any swallows in a while now, but I have heard of thousands, probably tree swallows, roosting in the phragmites of the marsh along the Croton River. Riverman Bob Boyle used to talk of ten thousand of them rising all at once from the marsh, "like smoke." [Photo of least sandpiper courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Christopher Letts

9/1 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Readers had a questions from an entry we ran on August 21, mentioning radiocarbon dating for the age (11,500 years ago) of the Hyde Park mastodont, excavated in 2000.
When Willard Libby developed radiocarbon dating (the dating of organics) in the early 1950s, measurements were calibrated using what scientists believed were consistent levels of radioactive carbon in the atmosphere in the past, particularly deep time. However, a decade or more ago scientists using Arctic ice cores, among other sources, discovered that this assumption was incorrect. Radioactive carbon levels in the atmosphere fluctuated farther back in time. Radiocarbon dating worked fine for more recent analyses, but older dates were skewed - the radiocarbon dating (verified by other dating protocols) was too young by about 1,000 years at 10,000 years ago. A re-calibration process was developed to correct this, introducing the concept of "calendar years." They have since become a footnote to previously published dates.
While radiocarbon analysis of the Hyde Park mastodont's tusks returned a date of 11,480 years ago, this example of a now-extinct form of elephant was in fact about 13,337 calendar years old. For those contemplating a time machine visit to the site, this would be very important.
- Tom Lake

9/1 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: An immature black-crowned night heron was standing at the water's edge on a small inlet in the Hudson River. A great blue heron and numerous mallards were nearby.
- Eileen Stickle

9/1 - Kowawese, HRM 59: It seemed foolhardy but at the same time necessary: seining in the wind, with a steady rain, frequent and close by thunder, and rollers on the beach. We hauled our 85-foot seine as quickly and efficiently as we could, gathered our gear, and got off the beach intact. Among the interesting fishes in our bag were YOY striped bass (33-35 mm), blueback herring (47-49 mm), channel catfish (71-73 mm), and gizzard shad (130-145 mm). The tiny striped bass were a bit of a surprise this late in the season. Following a string of hot and humid days and nights, the river had warmed back to 80 degrees F. Salinity was barely measurable.
- Phyllis Lake, Tom Lake

9/1 - Bear Mountain, HRM 46: We put our canoe in at the Bear Mountain State Park boat ramp and methodically began placing buoys for monitoring Vallisneria (wild celery), an important submerged aquatic plant in the freshwater Hudson. Many crabbers were out, most in family groups, putting out bait and pulling in catches. As we paddled an osprey took aim, plunged into the water, and pulled up a good-sized catch. The bird then struggled to get back into the air. Holding the fish like a torpedo in its talons, the osprey took off with a gull in its wake, taunting but not managing to dislodge the catch. Black vultures lined the railroad trestle - an amazing site. We found no Vallisneria for the second year in a row. Last year it seemed that 2011's Hurricane Irene had swept the area clean; last autumn's Hurricane Sandy may be the likely suspect this year.
- Margie Turrin, Brent Turrin

9/1 - Bedford, HRM 35: Although the overcast skies made spotting easy at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, haze proved to be a real handicap. One broad-winged hawk near the cell tower vanished entirely from view this morning despite being not at all that far out. As often as not, birds would seem to appear out of nowhere, before soon disappearing. We also had our first peregrine falcon of the season. Current selected season totals are 43 ospreys and 30 broad-winged hawks.
- Arthur R. Green, Gaelyn Ong

9/1 - Croton-On-Hudson, HRM 35: Our pair of gray foxes was still active, following our first observation in early June. We see them nearly every day, now and again. It seems to me they have become less active in daylight and more active in the dark hours. Every once in a while, however, one of them will walk right by us when we are out in the yard. One, presumably the female, is about the size of our cat; the other is larger. They are beautiful animals and are really quite the treat. We will miss them when they leave.
- Scott Horecky, Kathy Sutherland

9/2 - Hamilton County: Not only was there an abundance of cones in the Adirondacks this summer, there was also an abundance of nuts and berries. Charlotte Demers, biologist at SUNY ESF's Newcomb facility (sixteen miles due east of Long Lake), said it is time to stock up on mouse traps! After no cones and no mice last winter (with many starved barred owls), she believes that things will be completely different this winter. Just this past week the mice began to come into our home in Long Lake (very early for them); we are trapping one a day.
- Joan Collins

A red eft walks over some small rocks

9/2 - Minerva, HRM 84: My daughter Emma, our new exchange-student son Kevin, and I had nice weather for a hike on the new Moxham Ridge Trail. The trail is well laid-out and about three miles each way. As we got to Moxham Ridge and looked out over the Hudson River valley west of North Creek, we saw a very striking adult bald eagle moving through the sky, lazily cruising from north to south to the river. What a beautiful sight. Closer to earth, we found a dozen red efts crossing the trail as we hiked, a good sign, since there seemed to be very few of them in the area the past two years. We also lifted a couple of downed logs and found a healthy red-back salamander. Kevin had never seen a salamander, so this was a good day for him. [Photo of red eft by Steve Stanne.]
- Mike Corey

9/2 - Town of Shandaken, HRM 92: We were happy to see an eight-inch ring-necked snake [black with a bright yellow ring behind its head] along the side of the road at Fox Hollow. It raised its head a bit, perhaps at the vibrations of our steps, and then slid smoothly back into the grass.
- Peter Relson and Carol Anderson

9/2 - Beacon, HRM 61: The approaching new moon was affecting the tides; the river level should have been approaching low tide but the water was still well up on the beach. We struggled through submerged rocks and other hang-downs, finally making a half-dozen hauls of our net that did not "dump" on the way in. Oddly, our catch was exclusively YOY striped bass (46-55 mm) - not a bad consolation if limited to a single species. The water was 79 degrees F with barely measurable salinity. As we left the beach and passed stands of gorgeous cardinal flowers, we heard and then saw an American redstart.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

9/2 - Town of Wawayanda, HRM 47: Urged on by Rob Stone's call of a black tern being seen at the Camel Farm, we made a trip there this afternoon. Immediately upon arrival, the black tern was obvious as it made passes back and forth over the small pond.
- Ken McDermott, Lisa O'Gorman

9/2 - Pine Island, HRM 45: We next went the short distance to the Pine Island Turf Nursery where quickly we found 86 golden plovers, two pectoral sandpipers, eight least sandpipers, uncounted killdeer, a green heron and a wily red fox.
- Ken McDermott, Lisa O'Gorman

[Having found so many American golden plovers, in every plumage possible, and coming up with a huge number, I went back into my records to see what other big golden plover totals I have recorded.
September 22, 1979: 325 at the old Warren Sod Farm, Orange County Route 12.
September 21, 2004: 150 at the Pine Island Turf Nursery.
September 22, 2004: 118 at the Pine Island Turf Nursery.
September 10, 2005: 74 at the old Warren Sod Farm, Orange County Route 12.
August 30, 2006: 60 at the old Warren Sod Farm, Orange County Route 12.
November 6, 2011: 41 at Camel Farm.
- Ken McDermott]

9/2 - Bedford, HRM 35: Ospreys continued to pull through in all weather with all other raptors minimally represented at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Unsurprisingly, thermal generation was sparse and all the observed birds passed at very casual height above the tree canopy. We also spotted four flocks of cedar waxwings (40 birds). Current selected season totals were 50 ospreys and 31 broad-winged hawks.
- Arthur R. Green, Gaelyn Ong

9/2 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: A mid-morning walk at high tide yielded a single least sandpiper and three immature yellow warblers at the end of the pier, and a winter plumage spotted sandpiper foraging among the cormorants on the rocks north of the pier. Two ospreys and a bald eagle flew over, heading southward.
- Linda Pistolesi

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