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Hudson River Almanac September 24 - September 30, 2013

OVERVIEW

For some, the real spirit of autumn arrives on the wings and in the songs of migrating geese, the "high-flyers," whose voices are usually heard well before the birds are sighted. Some of the first high-flyer Canada geese passed down the valley this week, with many more to come.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

9/30 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Our search for wild celery (Vallisneria) took us to Croton Point where we found meager tiderows of their leaves, not even ten percent of the volume we saw three years ago. Those leaves, from a long season of growth, often had collected tiny bay barnacles that scratched your legs as you waded through the beds. We hauled our seine around some algae-covered cobbles and caught northern pipefish, young-of-the-year [YOY] bay anchovies 43-45 millimeters [mm] long and striped bass (117 mm), and dozens of baby blue crabs. (The inshore shallows were literally crawling with bug blue crabs, most not even thumbnail size.) Using the lift-and-scoop method (lifting a cobble and sweeping a small dip net underneath) we caught half-a-dozen naked gobies. The river was 67 degrees Fahrenheit and the salinity was 6.0 parts per thousand [ppt].
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Naked gobies are small estuarine fish, usually less than 75 mm long, and are found in shallow inshore areas of the lower Hudson. They lack scales on their body, hence the common name "naked." Their pelvic fins form a disk on their abdomen; when kept in aquaria, gobies use this disk to stick themselves to the glass. In the distant past when the river had extensive and viable oyster beds, it is likely that the naked goby was much more common. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

9/24 - Selkirk, HRM 135: Our ruby-throated hummingbirds are gone. They were here a couple of days ago, but now have moved on. Then I noticed the thugs are coming back - I'm referring to the blue jays.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

9/24 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Yesterday a few kestrels were hovering on the windward face of the landfill. But today, they were all gone.
- Christopher Letts

9/24 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I heard them before I spotted them in the deep blue sky. It was midday "goose music" from a flock of high-flyers. Over the next half-hour, I counted six more flocks of Canada geese.
- Tom Lake

[We call them high-flyers because that is, indeed, what they do. Skeins of migrating Canada and snow geese, miles high, strung out in Vs and large check-marks, always in flux, birds constantly changing their position in the geometrics of the sky. It always reminds me of volleyball team members switching after every point. A strong north breeze was pushing these flocks south, allowing the geese to save on fuel. Tom Lake.]

9/24 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had a nice flight of sharp-shinned hawks, most of it in the afternoon , at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. But what happened to all those broad-winged hawks that were still to our north? Also counted were two monarch butterflies, 573 Canada geese (in 22 flocks), and two ruby-throated hummingbirds. Current selected season totals are 12,094 broad-winged hawks and 605 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Tait Johansson, Dick Cowan, Jim Jones

9/25 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I spotted a single hummingbird on a feeder at dusk. At the same time, a lone monarch was fluttering past, heading south. This would be our last day for hummingbirds. Residents or migrants, they were here nine days longer than last fall. This is always a sad time since they conjure up images of warm days and late sunsets.
- Tom Lake

9/25 - Bedford, HRM 35: There were no clear flight-lines at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today, with most birds passing at rather casual height over the tree canopy but often at a significant distance from us. This was the first day in a long while that we managed to strike out completely with American kestrels. Also counted were two common ravens, 530 Canada geese (nine flocks), three ruby-throated hummingbirds, and two monarchs. Current selected season totals are 12,107 broad-winged hawks and 692 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

9/26 - Milan HRM 90: Just as I was considering taking down the hummingbird feeders, one did a quick fly by. The feeders will stay for another week. The first downy woodpecker was on the suet today and the mast crop this year is fantastic. I have to wear a hard hat on the back porch to guard against the falling acorns.
- Marty Otter

[Mast refers to the fruit or edible seeds of nut-bearing trees such as hickory, oak, walnut, and beech that support a wide range of wildlife from wild turkey to squirrels to white-tailed deer. Tom Lake.]

9/26 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63: I watched a raptor, at tree-top level, cruise toward me head-on from far across an open grassy field. As it passed, heading southeast, I could clearly see the white rump of a northern harrier. These marsh hawks are in migration and frequently can be seen in wetlands and fields where mice, moles, voles, and other small rodents do their best to hide.
- Tom Lake

9/26 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had modest numbers for this time of year at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Initially, there were no preferred flight-lines, but by midday, birds began passing far to our east/southeast and were often barely detectable by binoculars. Also counted were three monarchs and one ruby-throated hummingbird. Current selected season totals are 12,119 broad-winged hawks and 766 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Elaine Kellogg

9/27 - Orange County, HRM 35: It seemed as though our one last female hummingbird finally flew the coop from Sterling Forest to find her wintering grounds in the tropics. She had stayed longer than the others by about a week. The males left much earlier, at the beginning of September, which lowered the frantic rivalry around the feeders by a lot. They certainly are zealous in their feeder ownership and gave us a great deal to keep track of during the summer months. Now it's time to get out the seed feeders and at the same time watch for black bears.
- Mary Yrizarry

9/27 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had pretty much written off broad-winged hawks for the season at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, so the flock of 28 birds lifting out of the trees early this morning was a pleasant surprise. This flock was soon joined by several other birds, amassing into what was likely our last real "kettle" of the season. Current selected season totals are 12,176 broad-winged hawks and 824 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Chet Friedman, Gaelyn Ong

["Kettle" is a birding term that describes an aggregation of birds, usually raptors or vultures, gaining height by circling in warm, rising thermals. The rising, circular movement of the birds in a small, defined area of the sky creates the appearance of a cauldron of birds being stirred or boiled by the wind, thus a kettle. While kettles can occur almost any time of the year, they are particularly common during fall migration. Tom Lake.]

9/27 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Charlie Roberto had reported a snipe and bobolink on the landfill, so off I went in search, but no luck. Flocks of Canada geese were passing high overhead and at least four kestrels were hunting over the landfill. A mixed flock of robins and cedar waxwings skirmished through the understory, foraging their way to the southwest end of the Point, where they would spiral high and launch out across the Hudson to the security of the Palisades on the west side.
- Christopher Letts

9/27 - Croton River, HRM 34: I spotted a kettle of mixed raptors over the railroad bridge: three ospreys, a sharp-shinned hawk, and a broad-winged hawk shared the same thermal, gained altitude, and headed for the western side. A single, resplendent monarch butterfly lazed past in the bright sunlight, the only one I would see this day.
- Christopher Letts

9/28 - Bedford, HRM 35: With easterly breezes at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, we had come to expect birds flying primarily at height and significant distance from the watch platform, with haphazard flight-lines. Today was no exception. Even with prominent clouds, birds were often extremely hard to pick out until mid-afternoon. Capping off the day was a mid afternoon falcon flight, bringing in twenty-six American kestrels, six merlins, and three peregrine falcons in just over an hour, with nearly all birds flying only meters above eye-level even at a significant distance from the watch platform. Also counted were nine common ravens and fifty blue jays. We were also surprised to see a praying mantis gliding on the wind currents as gracefully as a butterfly. Current selected season totals are 12,194 broad-winged hawks and 884 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

9/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34: This was the Week of the Goose. I counted more than a dozen flocks of the high flying migrants through the course of the past three days.
- Christopher Letts

9/28 - Englewood, NJ, HRM 13.5: This was my first post-Hurricane Sandy seining program here and I was shocked. The fishing pier was almost demolished and huge piles of storm debris were everywhere. Generally at this time of the season we find lots of "funny fish" but not this year. Instead of marine strays the catch consisted of a few shrimp and blue crabs, a "snapper" bluefish, and two each of naked gobies and Atlantic silversides. Up on the Palisades things were equally quiet. A family of ravens was very present, and took it upon themselves to harass two south-bound migrants, an osprey and a red-tailed hawk. Winter wrens were active, sorting through the piles of debris in search of spiders and other loot. The beach offered perhaps the best signs of wildlife, as we examined the tracks of a family of river otter.
- Christopher Letts

9/29 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Today we saw a bird we had never seen before - a female rusty blackbird.
- Terry Hardy, Tom Ferber

9/29 - Bedford, HRM 35: This was another day with birds far away and high at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Apart from the small kettles of broad-winged hawks, movement was at least fairly consistent throughout the day. By the end of the count period, we had a slight peak of sharp-shinned hawks and American kestrels. This movement followed closely on the heels of a dragonfly migration. Also counted were eight common ravens, sixty-two cedar waxwing (five flocks), and two monarchs. Current selected season totals are 12,231 broad-winged hawks and 931 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong, Tony Wilkinson

9/29 - Croton Point, HRM 35: At this time of year I usually carry a couple of empty fish totes and a pitchfork in the back of the truck. When I come upon a thick windrow of dried, stranded "seaweed," or wild celery, I load the totes. It makes wonderful garden mulch. But it isn't going to happen this year. The lush beds of two years ago are gone, with only meager vestiges remaining. And with the aquatic plants go the animals. Seining this fall, from Englewood to Croton Point (22 miles), has been the least productive and the least interesting in thirty years. Even the killifish traps, baited with cat food or the remnants of a crab dinner, come up almost empty. Marine strays seem completely absent. However, I am seeing YOY American shad - nice healthy, good sized fish. That is encouraging.
- Christopher Letts

9/29 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: There was a lot of kestrel activity, birds all over the landfill, many "wind-hovering." It seemed to me that hovering would take more energy than the amount of calories gained could justify. Most of the prey appeared to be grasshoppers and moths. I saw at least six birds and it was likely that there were more than that.
- Christopher Letts

[Gerard Manley Hopkins'1877 poem, The Windhover, spoke of this small falcon (in part):
- I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Tom Lake.]

9/30 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: This was the thirteenth anniversary of the closing, after 392 days, of the Hyde Park mastodont excavation site. The pond where it was found had been an old oxbow of Fallkill Creek. Family groups of this extinct elephant roamed the Hudson Valley until about 10,500 years ago. Adults were estimated to have stood nearly ten feet high at the shoulder and weighed almost 10,000 pounds. It was the most complete skeleton of a mastodont ever unearthed in the Northeast. Because the excavation took thirteen months, hundreds of students, from elementary to graduate school, from Michigan to Virginia to Canada, and all of New England, had the opportunity to help as they rode a "time machine" back to Dutchess County 11,500 years ago. While no direct evidence at this site linked the mastodont to the first humans in the Hudson Valley, there is little doubt that they had crossed paths during the 34 years of this animal's life.
- Tom Lake

9/30 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was another sparse day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. We counted only nineteen birds by mid-afternoon, followed by a brisk late-day falcon flight. As has been the pattern the past couple of days, this flight followed on the heels of a surge of migrating dragonflies. Also counted were five common ravens, one common nighthawk, 31 American robins (two flocks), 121 blue jays, and 184 cedar waxwings (twelve flocks). Current selected season totals are 12,232 broad-winged hawks and 964 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

9/30 - Croton Point, 35-34: Yesterday's kestrels had moved on. The consolation prize was a highly vocal pair of ravens, soaring and conversing.
- Christopher Letts

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