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Hudson River Almanac October 1 - October 7, 2013

OVERVIEW

After more than a week with no measurable precipitation, brackish water (about 10% sea water) began to creep above the Hudson Highlands. Would it bring brackish water animals with it? The first of our winter feeder birds made a showing this week as well.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/2 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: I was awakened last night by continuous screeching from a tree outside my window. The racket went on for quite a while. As a birder, I knew it had to be a nocturnal predatory bird but had never heard one that sounded both so distressed and persistent. The gentlest comparison was of a large rusty gate careening on an eerily windless night. Today I did an online search of owl calls and the one I heard matched that of the barn owl. I regret missing this visual treat - it moved away next night. This is the classic owl middle-of the-night mythological "harbinger of death." One can understand belief in ghostly apparitions by the haunting facial disc and white feathers of this bird with its tormented call.
- Pat Joel

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/1- Hudson, HRM 118: One of the staff at the Questar III Columbia-Greene Educational Center discovered a praying mantis (that he named "Paula"), at the front entrance of our school early this morning. It was still there when I arrived a while later and it stayed at its post for hours, welcoming students and faculty.
- Lynn Seftner

10/1 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: Brown marmorated stink bugs had arrived on the deck, on the outside of screens, and in sunny spots on the siding.
- Phyllis Marsteller

[The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) has made an impression in many areas of the Mid-Hudson Valley in the last few years, invading homes, businesses, schools, garages, and automobiles often in overwhelming numbers. Also called the shield bug, they are invasive insects native to Asia and introduced in the northeast in the 1990s. They are considered agricultural pests since in large numbers they can suck plant juices and damage crop production. Tom Lake.]

10/1 - Bedford, HRM 35: This was a rather sparse flight for early October at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Some birds were sighted flying surprisingly low despite rip-roaring thermals. A pair of bald eagles (an immature and a second-year bird) circling overhead were the raptor highlight of the day. There were no afternoon flights of either dragonflies or falcons. Also counted were five common ravens, 46 blue jays, one ruby-throated hummingbird, and a single monarch. Current selected season totals are 12,232 broad-winged hawks and 974 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green

[The hawkwatch observation point at Chestnut Ridge is in Westchester County, 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.]

10/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: It was a lovely morning for a walk and I took a long one. The entire Point vibrated with bird life - songbirds were everywhere. For two hours I was rarely out of sight or sound of blue jays and robins. Warblers, catbirds, flycatchers, and red-winged blackbirds were all over the place. However, I saw only one kestrel and a single monarch.
- Christopher Letts

10/2 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Looking up to the bright blue sky on a glorious October day, I noticed a kettle of seven birds circling on the thermals overhead. They were turkey vultures, high aloft, but one was distinctly different, much larger. As it effortlessly turned, its tail and then its head glinted white in the autumn sunlight. Wonderful! An adult bald eagle was riding the thermals with the vultures. My adrenalin rush didn't reach as high as the eagle, but fairly close, for this was a first bald eagle sighting from my yard, which is several miles distant from the Hudson.
- Ed Spaeth

10/2 - Beacon, HRM 61: Following ten days with no rain, the sea salt finally made it to Long Dock Park for the first time this season. We measured 3.0 parts per thousand [ppt]; seawater at this latitude averages 32-33 ppt. The river was 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

10/2 - Bedford, HRM 35: Many of the migrating raptors spotted from the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today were clearly struggling against the west winds as they made their way southwest. We counted one monarch today. Current selected season totals are 12,232 broad-winged hawks and 1,039 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Tait Johansson, Jim Jones

10/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Where there were thousands of passerines yesterday, where I listed three dozen species in two hours, I saw and heard barely a dozen this morning. Gone were yesterday's legions of migrants. The constant was one kestrel and a solitary monarch.
- Christopher Letts

10/3 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: We had not seen the great blue heron from Ogilvie's Pond for several days, so this afternoon we went searching, driving across the Oscawana Bridge over Furnace Brook. The tide was low and a tree trunk was exposed on the mud flats. Standing on it, preening its feathers, was our heron. Earlier, we had spotted a monarch butterfly on a butterfly bush, only the third one we've seen this year.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

10/3 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38: Ah, the leaves come down, they roar down, they thunder down. With barely enough breeze to alter their course of fall, they blanket the mirror surface of Pine Lake. Where I mulched millions two days ago there lies a solid new carpet of maple leaves, hiding the lawn beneath, hardly a speck of green showing through.
- Christopher Letts

10/3 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had excellent sharp-shinned numbers at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch despite lackluster conditions which assured that distant birds we'd normally see were lost to the haze. There was not much of a dragonfly push prior to the day's mid-afternoon American kestrel flight, with only a few green darners observed near the watch platform. Also counted were 196 blue jays (36 small flocks), 32 cedar waxwings (four flocks), and one monarch. Current selected season totals are 12,232 broad-winged hawks and 1,105 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

10/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Another huge wave of songbirds had arrived and the trees and understory were throbbing with warblers and other small birds. I saw more birds in one scrubby black willow than in yesterday's hour-long walk.
- Christopher Letts

10/4 - Middle Ground, HRM 119.5: We have been photographing an eagle family since May, three fledglings and the adults. The last day we saw the family together was September 25.
- Michael Kalin, Julie Elson

[Immature bald eagles fledged in the summer tend to become more independent as summer turns to autumn and winter finally arrives. By the time snow and ice become a part of the valley landscape, most immature eagles will have found their peers to hang out with. Tom Lake.]

10/4 - Milan HRM 90: The first black-capped chickadees visited my feeder today. They are friendly little guys.
- Marty Otter

10/4 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I watched a house wren tear into a meal of stink bug like a grizzly bear enjoying salmon.
- Barbara Wells

10/4 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The hummingbird feeders came down today and the finch feeders went up. Immediately a half-dozen chickadees and a like number of goldfinches mobbed the feeders. One chickadee momentarily landed on my hand as I took too long to fasten the top on a feeder.
- Tom Lake

10/4 - Beacon, HRM 61: After more than a week of air temperatures in the 70s and 80s, no rain, and salinity at 4.0 ppt, we expected to see some brackish water fish in our net. Instead we caught an assemblage of typical freshwater species: smallmouth bass 84-100 millimeters [mm] long, largemouth bass (125-150 mm), banded killifish, tessellated darters, spottail shiners, and small American eels. The only evidence of brackish water were handfuls of comb jellies, looking like little translucent pearls in the seine.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[Comb jellies (Ctenophora) are often mistaken for jellyfish but differ in that they have no tentacles and do not sting. Like true jellyfish, comb jellies are translucent, gelatinous, fragile, and essentially planktonic, drifting at the whim of the wind and current. Common in warm, brackish estuarine shallows, they are peanut to walnut-sized and often occur in swarms. For a real treat, gently scoop a few from the net with a wet, cupped hand, place them into a small glass aquarium, and gently rock the water. Their rhythmic, symmetrical, and altogether graceful movements are enchanting, but belie their voracious nature. For example, comb jellies are a major predator of larval shellfish in Long Island estuaries. The common Hudson River species is Leidy's comb jelly (Mnemiopsis leidyi). Tom Lake.]

10/4 - Bedford, HRM 35: Our day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch started and ended with very localized bands of brisk rain that hardly registered on the National Weather Service radar, but we were pretty well soaked! In spite of oppressive haze and some valley fog that pretty much ruled out detection of distant migrants, we did fairly well. It's not inconceivable that we lost at least as many birds to the haze as we counted. Two of the three peregrine falcons passed close enough to the watch platform to be aged without binoculars. Also counted were 72 blue jays (ten small flocks) and 50 cedar waxwings (five flocks). Current selected season totals are 12,232 broad-winged hawks and 1,133 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Gaelyn Ong, Jim Jones

10/5 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: There were easily a hundred Canada geese and 30 mallards foraging across acres of water chestnut. Each of two dozen deadfalls had a cormorant, many of them striking their "Dracula" pose, drying out (cormorant feathers lack the buoyant oils of waterfowl). We had time to notice these things because our public fishing program was practically non-existent. Across three hours, fifteen anglers landed just one fish, an eight-inch-long bluegill caught by one-year-old Chance Fernald, The tide was high and the river was 67 degrees F.
- Ryan Coulter, Tom Lake

10/5 - Bedford, HRM 35: Two of the four peregrine falcons we had today at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch passed close enough to the watch platform to be seen without binoculars. The day ended with a small push of all three species of falcons (peregrine, merlin, and kestrel) as well as sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks, and a small kettle of three ospreys. We also had a kettle of black and turkey vultures relatively close to the platform in mid-afternoon. Also counted were two monarchs. Current selected season totals are 12,232 broad-winged hawks and 1,165 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Gaelyn Ong, Arthur W. Green, Charles Bobelis, Chris Franks, Steve Walter

10/6 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We saw something pretty amazing at midday on the Wallkill River: An adult bald eagle swooped down to the water and snatched a fish off the surface. As it flew away the fish squirmed in an odd way and we realized it was an American eel!
- Tom O'Dowd, Anne Eshenroeder

10/6 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Hundreds of brant were flying south in large intermittent flocks. As we fed the mallards and a lone Canada goose, two brant came skidding into the flock and then walked onto the beach to pick grit and preen.
- Ed McKay, Hope McKay, Hunter McKay

10/6 - Bedford, HRM 35: With drizzle and fog, we could barely see from the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. In midday, by chance, a hunting juvenile Cooper's hawk was spotted diving into the tree canopy. Current selected season totals are 12,232 broad-winged hawks and 1,165 sharp-shinned hawks (no increase from yesterday; no migrating raptors counted for the day).
- Gaelyn Ong, Arthur W. Green

10/7 - North Germantown, HRM 109: We kept a wary eye on the blackening sky over the Catskills to the west (tornado watch). The wind had picked up and a steady but light shower had begun to soak us. The expected low tide never materialized as a strong south-southeast wind had kept it in. We hauled our 85-foot-long seine across sandy shallows dotted with small clumps of vegetation, and then hastened to land it before the tide caught us or the storm reached us. As with our last visit (see 9/20) our net caught a dozen or more young-of-the-year striped bass (67-74 mm), mixed in with white perch, banded killifish, and small American eels. Within minutes of collecting our gear, the rain began (1.5") accompanied by strong winds. The water was 67 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

10/7 - Ulster County, HRM 97: With a couple of warmer nights recently, I'd begun to hear katydids again. Some nights just a couple, but others it was an entire chorus. I think this might be the latest I have ever heard them. I came upon a flock of wild turkeys this morning with two mature toms all fanned out like they were going to go at it. There were five or six hens around them.
- Scott Davis

10/7 - Bedford, HRM 35: Despite strong winds and impending storms, there was more activity than one might expect at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. A lone, straggling adult broad-winged hawk was spotted before we were shut out by the first round of rain at midday. Our attempt to finish up the day was met almost immediately by another bout of hard rain, although it was nice to see resident turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks still making their rounds right up until visibility closed off completely. Also counted were 40 European starlings (one flock), 22 blue jays (seven small flocks), 30 Canada geese, and one monarch. Current selected season totals are 12,233 broad-winged hawks and 1,167 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Gaelyn Ong, Arthur W. Green

[Broad-winged hawks are by far the most numerous raptor counted in fall at Chestnut Ridge and other northeastern hawkwatches. However, most are gone from the Hudson Valley region by September's end; until the straggler mentioned here, the season's total of broad-wings at Chestnut Ridge had remained unchanged all week. Steve Stanne.]

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