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Hudson River Almanac September 10 - September 16, 2013


We have seen some fisheries anomalies amidst a summer of rain and lower salinity, e.g., where are the menhaden and silversides? This week featured not a missing fish, but one found totally out of its realm. We also saw the peak of broad-winged hawk migration with incredible numbers.


A close-up of the head of a small shark that washed up on the shores of the Hudson

9/14 - Beacon, HRM 61: A local angler came up to me and excitedly said, "I've got something for you to look at. A shark washed up on shore!" I didn't believe him, thinking surely it must be a sturgeon. I walked to the kayak launch area and there, lying on the rocks, was indeed a shark, a smooth dogfish, just under 30-inches-long. Though clearly dead, it was still bleeding from inside the edge of its mouth, which makes me think a fisherman caught him and then let him go.

- Kali Bird

[Smooth dogfish are sharks. However, they are not to be confused with the man-eaters that get all the press. These rather small (a three-footer is a big one), rather docile (much more interested in shellfish than your leg) have flat faceted teeth used for crushing shellfish and the occasional small fish. Their literature says that they need at least brackish, if not salty, water and cannot survive long in freshwater.

The larger question, however, is what archaeologist call "provenance", which includes the term in situ, or original position. We have had many examples of transplanted fish, caught elsewhere, then left on another beach totally out of context, either as a prank or just as fish-litter. Smooth dogfish are not supposed to be found 30 miles upriver from brackish water. Yet, last year we recovered an equally out-of-context oyster toadfish 45 miles upriver from brackish water. If these species were not already on our list of fishes for the watershed, we would be reluctant to add them from such records. - Tom Lake. Photo of smooth dogfish by Kali Bird.]


9/10 - Bedford, HRM 35: Today was pretty much a non-starter at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. The few raptors spotted were flying unusually low; poor visibility meant that I probably missed out on a distant bird or two, but I suspect today's count was actually quite representative of the day's passage. Current selected season totals were 93 osprey, 253 broad-winged hawks, 85 sharp-shinned hawks.

- Arthur W. Green

9/10 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34-25: Gino Garner searched a ten-mile reach of the Tappan Zee today looking for signs of menhaden (peanut bunker), schools of which are ordinarily common this time of the year in the lower estuary. The signs to look for are screeching and diving gulls with acres of water stirred to a froth as the small herring are pursued by bluefish and striped bass. Gino could not find a single bunker.

- Christopher Letts

[Atlantic menhaden are a species of herring that spawn in salty to brackish water. Adults are known regionally as bunker, mossbunker or pogies. They are a major seasonal snack to the predators of the estuary, from bluefish to harbor seals to osprey. - Tom Lake]

9/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 94 degrees Fahrenheit [F] today, tying the record high for the date.

- National Weather Service

9/11 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Under a relentlessly hot sun 95F and stifling humidity, high tide was making our effort even more difficult. We managed to haul our 85-foot seine a half-dozen times; our catch included spottail shiners, white perch, and striped bass, but many fewer of them than we would have seen on a lower tide when the fish tend to frequent the shallows. The most notable aspect of our catch was the blue crabs, largely absent from most sampling this summer. We caught a dozen, all males, all 3-4-inches carapace width. The temperature on the sand was 111F; the water was still a warm 78F; salinity was just under 2.0 parts per thousand [ppt].

- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

9/11 - Bedford, HRM 35: This was our hottest day of the season at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. The relative lack of activity seemed to confirm my feeling this was just a poor day for sightings, although two high-flying adult turkey vultures seemed to show clear intent and were marked down as our first passage TVs for the season. Also spotted were eight ruby-throated hummingbirds. Current selected season totals were 95 osprey, 256 broad-winged hawks, 85 sharp-shinned hawks.

- Arthur W. Green

9/11 - New York City, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 96F today, three degrees shy of the record high for the date.

- National Weather Service

A look back at 9-11-2001 from Hudson River Almanac VIII

9/11 - Croton Point, HRM 35: We were on the beach at Croton Point and had left our truck radios on as we prepared for our morning school program (American Airlines flight 11 hit the North Tower at 08:46.26). The school bus arrived with second graders from Coman Hills Elementary in Armonk. They disembarked and were led across a wide grassy field to where we waited on the beach (United Airlines flight 175 hit the South Tower at 09:02.54). After introductions, we began to haul our seine through the grassy shallows. We positioned the children facing us, away from downriver. A rising trace of smoke, just a smudge on an otherwise brilliant blue sky, was on the horizon from thirty miles away. Young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass dominated our catch, along with a dozen yearling tautog. Each of the blackfish told a story of its habitat: those caught in the beds of wild celery were a perfect match of camo-green; those from the beds of water milfoil were a brighter green; and those from the fringes of the light-and-dark sandy bottom flecked with white oyster shell were mottled brown with white specks [the South Tower collapsed at 09:59.04]. From the open water adjacent to the grass beds we caught a half-dozen YOY bluefish with their snapping, toothy jaws. The water temperature was 77F; the salinity was 7.8 ppt. By the time the children left us for their ride back to school, their innocence was still intact. They were not aware of anything other than the adults were in a tizzy. They also had a guarded sense of our estuary's magic and that life was going on. (The North Tower collapsed at 10:28.31).

- Christopher Letts, Elise Feder, Amy Sher, Tom Lake

9/11 - New York Harbor, Upper Bay: What to say and what to do when the unspeakable happens? On a boat heading back from Ellis Island, jet black plumes of smoke issued up from hell itself where the World Trade Center once stood. It was still smoking after ten hours. The triage center I'd help staff at Ellis Island went completely unused. There was no need for one - the saddest truth of all.

- Dave Taft, National Park Service

9/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The quarter moon and Venus were sharply etched overhead when we arrived and climbed to the highest point on the landfill. The sun rose, a flock of bobolinks called from overhead, and a monarch butterfly flexed its wings on a clump of goldenrod. The commuter parking lot at the Croton-on-Hudson railroad station was half-filled with vehicles at a time when it should have been almost empty. Parked there less than 24 hours before, their owners had not been able to return to them at the end of the workday.

- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

9/11 - Manhattan, HRM 0: It was 392 years ago today, in a relatively idyllic time, that the residents of Manhattan, indigenous Algonquian people, marveled as Henry Hudson and his crew sailed the Half Moon to the edge of their island. On that day, the native people suffered a loss of innocence and, eventually, a grievous change to their culture. Today, on that anniversary, the island's residents suffered yet another profound loss of innocence amidst the smoke and destruction in lower Manhattan.

September 11, 2001, will continue to remind us of how fragile we are within the realm of our community of life: We can perish while eagles soar; we can crash and burn while shad and herring swim past on their way to the sea. The earth endures, we survive. - Tom Lake

End of a look back at 9-11-2001 from Hudson River Almanac VIII

9/12 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was mostly cloudy today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch and thunderstorms caused our count to be suspended for more than two hours in midday. Also counted were fourteen chimney swifts, sixteen barn swallows, two tree swallows and six ruby-throated hummingbirds. Current selected season totals were 97 osprey, 256 broad-winged hawks, 94 sharp-shinned hawks.

- Gaelyn Ong, Tait Johansson

9/12 - Tappan Zee, HRM 34-33: Gino Garner went fishing today for white perch, his favorite blue crab bait, but what he got was one channel catfish after another. About a decade ago, fishermen began showing me a "weird-looking catfish," as the channel cats began to move into the area. (They are native to the Midwest.) At that time white catfish were the dominant species. The channel catfish in those years ran small, 8-12 inches. Now, white catfish are uncommon and the channel catfish are measuring 20 inches and more in length. So far we have not seen anything like the 30-pound channel cats of Lake Ontario, but the thought is exciting.

- Christopher Letts

9/12 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: It was a warm (85F) and humid day. Along the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek American plantain had now raised its little spikes with tiny flowers and the English plantain had lifted its odd little spikes as well. It's hard to think of these two weeds as flowering plants at all, their flowers are so tiny and inconspicuous. I saw one plant of the much maligned black nightshade with its lovely little flowers.

In the wooded area of Inwood Hill Park the late bloomers were having their day. At the path up through the Clove clearweed (Pilea pumila), hardly in view a month ago, now covered substantial patches; its attractive leaves, shiny, toothed and prominently veined, hide the tiny flowers. The abundance of flowering jewelweed was hard to describe. Bushes many feet high were filled with bright, light orange flowers - a delight to the bumblebees. Atop the ridge, common dayflowers were still rather plentiful, but asters were everywhere, often intermingled with the deadly white snakeroot, now also in flower. Poison ivy had large bunches of berries, and porcelain berries were ripening to vivid blue and purple.

- Thomas Shoesmith

9/13 - Mill Creek, HRM 129: I rescued a snapping turtle the size of a dinner plate from the middle of a highway this afternoon. She was halfway across the road heading toward the Hudson. I stopped the car, tossed Pippin's car towel (Pippin is my dog) over her, bundled her up, put her in the back of the car, and drove to Mill Creek a Hudson tributary. By now she gotten out of the towel and was careening around the back of my car. I put on a pair of Kevlar gloves and gingerly picked her up. I hurried to the creek and she was snapping away the entire time. I arrived at the creek, set her in, and she promptly disappeared. As I went back to my car several big trucks went past and I was certain she would have been flattened by one of them had I not helped her. I felt like I helped to save not just one life but perhaps several generations of turtles.

- Patricia Van Alstyne

9/13 - Catskill Creek, RM 113: Another bunker (menhaden), just about the same size (4 inches) as the one caught in Esopus Creek last year [9/16], was caught in the Catskill Creek this afternoon. It was a young-of-the-year, snagged in the belly by thirteen-year-old Jacob Rivera who was bottom fishing with worms in the lower reach of the Catskill Creek.

- Tom Gentalen

9/13 - Gallatinville, HRM 101: As we were returning from town at mid-day, we saw a large black bear run across Route 11 just ahead of us, up through a neighbor's yard toward some fields and the forest on Green Hill. It was a spectacular sight. The bear was big, in fine condition, and we had never seen one this close to home.

- Jennifer Anderson

9/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Our male hummingbirds left a week ago and now we are watching the performances of the females and immatures. Some of these could be migrants, but the four summer residents appear to still be here. Without the territorial aggression of the males, the hummers are sharing the feeders when they are not running aerial sorties chasing each other. Their vocalization, repetitive squeaks, has been constant. From seemingly nowhere, two of them will whiz past our heads so close that we can feel the tiny buzz and accompanying breeze.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

A young of the year striped bass and a small eel cupped in two hands

9/13 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A cold front brought the wind around to the northwest and dropped the air temperature 23F from two days ago. While our catch was not robust, it was interesting, featuring young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass (44-46 millimeters [mm]). We caught and lost several small (4-inch) American eels (elvers) as they slipped through the mesh once the net was beached. A constant in every haul was tessellated darters. The river was 76F. [Photo of YOY striped bass and elver by Chris Bowser].

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Tessellated darters are small perch related to yellow perch and walleye, and are generally 2-4 inches long. They are one of the finest examples of adaptive camouflage, blending into the brown, mottled, and sandy substrate they frequent. They lie motionless on the bottom, propped on their pelvic fins, until potential food comes by such as insect larvae, small fish, or shrimp. Then, in a short, quick burst, they dart out and capture their prey. -Tom Lake]

9/13 - Bedford, HRM 35: Birds were particularly high throughout the morning and into mid-afternoon at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. There was a notable push of sharp-shinned hawks. Also counted were five ruby-throated hummingbirds, twenty-four cedar waxwings (two flocks), nineteen chimney swifts, three common ravens, and three monarchs. Current selected season totals were 103 osprey, 262 broad-winged hawks, 106 sharp-shinned hawks.

- Gaelyn Ong, Allen Kurtz, Chet Friedman, Paul Lewis

9/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It felt like October with a brisk and cool northwest breeze - another flight day for birds and butterflies. The ruby-throated hummingbirds continued their parade past, six at a time, stopping to fill up from our feeders, then chasing each other on south. Black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, and goldfinches were in the trees; the chickadees occasionally visited the hummer feeders looking for sunflowers or thistle seed. Overhead three black vultures drifted south with not a single wing beat among them to make the passage.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

9/14 - Kowawese, HRM 59: This was our fourteenth annual Hudson River Valley Ramble seining program. Thirty of us, including a class from the Storm King School with Emily Boronkay, eagerly anticipated our catch. After ten hauls across a bumpy bottom with many rocks and hang-downs, we had inexplicably caught only eight fish and two blue crabs. Among them were YOY striped bass (53-68 mm) and American shad (90 mm). The water was 75F with no trace of salinity.

- Tom Lake, Dick Manley, Ron Alevras

[We solved the mystery as to why we caught so few fish today: We had seined this beach all week across a smooth, sandy bottom with success - scores of fish of a half-dozen species. So we were perplexed as to why today's catch was so depressingly meager. After the program we checked the seine. Along the bottom seamline of the bag we found a 20-inch-long tear ripped by pumpkin-sized rocks that had been tossed into the river sometime in the day before the program. Given the size of the hole, the fact that we caught a few fish was even more surprising. - Tom Lake]

9/14 - Bedford, HRM 35: We counted an amazing 1,539 broad-winged hawks today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. I'll admit that I didn't think the pipeline was quite that flush with broad-wings. They were counted immediately upon our arrival with numbers ramping after midday. The American kestrel count, however, has been very disappointing, and I'll admit I find the numbers we're recording here (28) and at other northeastern sites so far this year a bit worrying. Also counted were eight common ravens, ninety-seven cedar waxwing (five flocks), thirty-one chimney swifts, ten ruby-throated hummingbirds, and one monarch. Current selected season totals were 114 osprey, 1801 broad-winged hawks, 133 sharp-shinned hawks.

- Arthur W. Green, Allen Kurtz, Gaelyn Ong, Jim Jones, Johnny Flores, Tait Johansson

9/15 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: While doing some pre-hunting season scouting, I came across the largest flock of wild turkeys that I can remember (approximately 25). Last week I saw six poults (young turkeys) at a location within a mile of where I saw the large flock. Wild turkeys are doing well this fall.

- Bob Haan

9/15 - Beacon, HRM 61: While our beach seining excursions often turn up many of the same species, each seems to add a highlight that keeps them fresh. Today, among the many YOY banded killifish (35-39 mm), was a handful of "elvers," immature American eels, most ranging 90-120 mm. We also caught three softshell crabs that we placed back in the river with much care. The water was 76F.

- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Blue crabs, as crustaceans, have an exoskeleton that they must shed periodically in order to grow. A shed exoskeleton, or moult, is an exact replica of the crab except that when you open the carapace, you see that no one is home. The newly-moulted crab is now out in the shallows as a softshell crab, noticeably larger, waiting for its new shell to harden, a process that can take up to 24 hours depending on water temperature. - Tom Lake]

9/15 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released four nice channel catfish today, eighteen-inches-long, weighting about two pounds each. A very excited youngster caught a fish and bought it over to me to identify. It was a fourteen-inch long freshwater drum.

- Bill Greene

[Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) are not a native fish in the Hudson. They probably arrived here in the last 25 years through the New York State canal system and the Mohawk River connecting the Hudson River with the Great Lakes. In Lake Erie they are known, colloquially, as "sheepshead" - they have that look. Freshwater drum are lovers of mollusks and in the Great Lakes are known to consume large quantities of zebra mussels. Other members of the drum family found in the Hudson River are marine species and they include northern kingfish, croaker, spot, black drum, silver perch, and weakfish. - Tom Lake.]

9/15 - Bedford, HRM 35: We counted 665 broad-winged hawks today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. It was an impressive follow-up to yesterday. Although today's count of broad-wings was not even half of yesterday's total, sharp-shinned were significantly more numerous. Also counted were forty-four cedar waxwing (3 flocks), sixteen chimney swifts, twenty-three ruby-throated hummingbirds, and four monarchs. Current selected season totals were 2466 broad-winged hawks and 254 sharp-shinned hawks.

- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong, Tait Johansson, Chet Friedman, Steve Walter

9/15 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: While we walked along the gravel roads of the capped landfill we could not help but notice hundreds of sulfur butterflies everywhere we went. We also wondered where are the monarchs? We have not seen one where normally we would see them in high numbers.

- Scott Horecky, Kathy Sutherland

9/16 - Saratoga County, HRM 1775. On the Saratoga National Historic Park battlefield driving tour at Neilson Farm (Stop 2), we saw a dozen bluebirds and two cedar waxwings. At the American River Fortification (Stop 3), we saw a savannah sparrow and a monarch. Finally, at Balcarres Redoubt (Stop 6), we spotted an American kestrel eating something on a tree stump.

- Dena Steele

9/16 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We caught a late day low tide with our repaired net (see 9/14). The results were better with the tear in the bag mended. We still had to navigate through a minefield of large rocks and the highlights, as they have been lately, were YOY striped bass (43-51 mm) and several nice blue crabs bordering on marketable size. The river was 74F.

- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

9/16 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 40-35: We (DEC Region 3 Fisheries Unit) are deploying our remaining sonic tags in shortnose sturgeon to try to learn more about their seasonal movements in the river and important areas where they congregate. We thought we knew but we were we wrong. We are finding shortnose sturgeon in places where would we expect to find juvenile Atlantic sturgeon. (We caught none of those today.) Preliminary tracking data suggests that pre-spawning adult shortnose overwinter in Haverstraw Bay. (We previously thought they did not.)

- Amanda Higgs, Russ Berdan, Alicia Raeburn

9/16 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was another amazing day with 8,587 broad-winged hawks counted at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. As expected, morning migration was very minimal in the wake of a cold front that swept through earlier. But after midday, someone turned on the proverbial fire hose! Several very large broad-wing streams were seen, including groups of 466, 673, 762, and a dramatic wind-swept "wall" of 3,261 birds that passed in an unbroken stream north of the watch platform. Also counted were eight ruby-throated hummingbirds. Current selected season totals were 11,053 broad-winged hawks and 285 sharp-shinned hawks.

- Gaelyn Ong, Tait Johansson, Chet Friedman

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