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Hudson River Almanac October 8 - October 14, 2013

OVERVIEW

Our eleventh annual "Day in the Life of the Hudson River," spanning the watershed, brought thousands of eager students to the estuary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/11 - Crugers, HRM 39: A beautiful gray fox ran across the road today. At first I thought it was a red fox - the animal did have quite a bit of rusty color - but the black-tipped tail gave it away as the fox sprinted off into a neighbor's yard.
- Dianne Picciano

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A few days ago, a lovely stretch of fall weather ended with rain (0.6"). Previously we had eleven days without precipitation, and daytime temperatures in the high 60s and overnight temperatures dipping into the 30s. That made for a perfect autumn season. The foliage was a bit past peak but there was still some lovely color with about half of the canopy still having foliage. A few apple trees were still hanging onto some fruit but most were done. The mountain ash berries have been worked over well by the cedar waxwings. Crab apples and choke cherry are still on the stem but likely won't last long after a few good frosts when the birds find them more palatable.
- Charlotte Demers

10/8 - Greene County, HRM 116: I came upon an unusual bivalve (clam) in the river at the Cohotate Field Station so I sent it to Dave Strayer at the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies.
- Jon Powell

[The species is the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea), an invasive species native to Asia. A few empty shells collected at Kingston on June 27, 2008, constitute the first record of this species from the Hudson River. It is now widespread (but not very common) throughout the freshwater tidal Hudson, and is very common in at least a couple of the upland rivers (Wallkill, Ramapo). Dave Strayer.]

A drake American Wigeon wading in still waters

10/8 - Monroe, HRM 46: Yesterday we spotted some waterfowl cavorting near mallards on Round Lake. They were not diving but dabbling. Our binoculars could not get close enough for a better look. Today there was a pair of beautiful birds hunkered down on a small Round Pond beach, the same birds we had seen - American wigeon. [Photo of drake American wigeon by Donna Dewhurst, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Lyn Nelson, Debbie Korwan

10/8 - Bedford, HRM 35: There was an unexpectedly slow movement at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today in the wake of this weekend's passing front. By mid-afternoon only nineteen raptors had been recorded. A short while later an impressive flight began; we had more than 140 birds, mostly sharp-shinned with a minor push of kestrels. Also counted were five common ravens, a Swainson's thrush, 129 American robins, 70 blue jays, and 164 Canada geese. Current selected season totals are 12,233 broad-winged hawks and 1,277 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

10/9 - Newcomb, HRM 302: A cold front that moved through the northeast put an end to most of the upper canopy foliage. Almost an inch of rain fell during an hour's time accompanied by very strong winds. I would estimate that 80%-100% of the dominant trees are now leafless - the exception, as always, being American beech. It is still lovely in the woods with the bright greens and yellows of the understory beech combining with the sugar-plum purple of the witchobble (Viburnum lantanoides). The sunlight penetrating into the understory makes these leaves glow with a radiance that I only see this time of year.
- Charlotte Demers

10/9 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We were here to get a feel for the conditions we'll face tomorrow for our "Day in the Life" programs. The preview was not auspicious: We seined three times with our 50-foot seine. Each haul caught no more than three fish, but did catch 5-6 rocks the size of cantaloupes (or cannonballs). The only fish we caught were tessellated darters and spottail shiners. With little recent rain, the salinity was 2.25 parts per thousand [ppt], and the water was still warm at 66 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake. A. Danforth

10/9 - Bedford, HRM 35: This was a day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch that was much slower than the count totals might suggest. Nearly all migrants were spotted flying at rather casual height above the tree canopy. American kestrel migration seemed to be finally winding down. We are still struck by the paucity of northern harriers so far. Also counted were three common ravens, 108 blue jays, 33 cedar waxwings, and three monarchs. Current selected season totals are 12,233 broad-winged hawks and 1,313 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong, Jim Jones

10/10 - Hudson River Watershed: Today was our eleventh "Day in the Life of the Hudson River." This annual event affords us the opportunity to engage students in sampling the watershed from many locations across a 200 mile-long reach of the river. We collect water quality and wildlife data as a one-day "snapshot" of the river ecosystem. This year we had groups at 63 sites (including two in the Mohawk River basin) involving some 3,000 students.
- Steve Stanne

10/10 - Green Island, HRM 153: High tide seemed to keep a lot of wildlife at bay. Students from the Robert C. Parker School (second, third, sixth, and seventh grades) were thrilled by the changes in the water level as the tide went out during our "Day in the Life" program. The uncovering of the shoreline brought shells, rocks, and formations to light. The New York State Museum assisted the fishing with an electro-shocking backpack that added excitement. The American eels and bluegills we collected stimulated questions and curiosity.
- Kate Perry

10/10 - Kingston, HRM 92: In mid-morning of our "Day in the Life" program at Kingston Point Park, we spotted an adult and an immature bald eagle flying north along Kingston's previously industrial waterfront. With much water chestnut at low tide, we had to go quite far out to seine. Just after lunch, our Bailey Middle School eighth graders caught fourteen fish in five hauls, including spottail shiners, golden shiners striped bass, and white perch.
- Julie Noble, Steve Noble

10/10 - Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: Fifty-six Robert Graves fourth grade students took part in our "Day in the Life" program. Over eight seine hauls we caught 28 fish, most notably an Oriental weatherfish and a northern pipefish. The water temp was 61 degrees F. Lunch was accompanied by music and a bald eagle resting on a bare branch in perfect sight of our spotting scope.
- Eli Schloss, Donna Nageli, Eric Nageli

Two northern pipefish being held over a seine net

[The pipefish is a close relative to the seahorse and favors vegetated areas in the estuary such as beds of wild celery, water milfoil, and pondweed. If this species were new to the watershed, without a photo or a specimen, today's record would be questionable given that it was from fresh water far upriver. Northern pipefish are common in the lower estuary; they are most comfortable in salty to brackish water. J.D. Hardy Jr. (1978) documented northern pipefish in salinity ranging from freshwater to full seawater, but much preferring 13.0-20.0 ppt. The previous, and tenuous, upriver record - also lacking a photo or specimen - was taken at Kowawese (HRM 59) for the 2007 Day in the Life. The salinity that day was 4.2 ppt and the river temperature was 73 degrees F. Tom Lake. Photo of two northern pipefish by Margie Turrin.]

10/10 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I glanced out the window this morning and saw perched on the railing right between our bird feeders an immature Cooper's hawk, looking me in the eye.
- Phyllis Lake

10/10 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Students from Vails Gate Elementary and Bishop Dunn Memorial helped us sample the river for our "Day in the Life" program. In an elegant backdrop, for the second day in a row, a kettle of turkey vultures spiraled up out of the forest from their night roost. With the sandy shallows lacking vegetation we had to seine hard to find fish. Our catch was modest with a few highlights including a smallmouth bass 200 millimeters [mm] long, yearling alewives (110-113 mm), young-of-the-year [YOY] striped bass (63 mm), and penny-sized blue crabs. The salinity rose as the tide fell, from 2.25 to 2.50 ppt. Water temperature was 65 degrees F.
- Mary-Lynne Malone, Joe DeStefano, Jack Caldwell, Bernadette Kleister, Pam Golben, Tom Lake

[Yearling alewives (river herring) may have always been in the estuary but we have begun to take notice of them in the last decade. Traditionally, alewives have been seen as either spawning adults or young-of-the-year. Professor Karin Limburg of SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry has analyzed these alewives looking for a "saltwater signature" in an effort to determine if they are precocious YOY fish, "holdovers," or wayward yearlings in from the sea. Tom Lake.]

10/10 - Cornwall, HRM 57: Seventy-five students from Willow Avenue School in Cornwall lined the beach in eager anticipation as we seined a quiet bay in the dropping tide for our "Day in the Life program." As we began, an immature bald eagle made a brief appearance overhead before moving away. As at Kowawese, two miles upriver, we caught yearling alewives (110-111 mm), broadening the occurrence of that poorly-understood phenomenon. The visual highlight was a gorgeous redbreast sunfish - no tropical fish ever looked prettier. Salinity was 2.5 ppt and the river was 66 degree F. As our program neared lunchtime, a long skein of brant (35-40 birds) passed low overhead, made the turn at the base of Storm King Mountain, and then flew straight down the river.
- Chris O'Sullivan, Tom Lake

[Legendary ecologist Dery Bennett used to mark the seasons by noting how brant, a small species of goose, would return to Sandy Hook (NJ) at the mouth of the estuary each autumn around Columbus Day to spend the winter. They would then leave Sandy Hook the following Memorial Day, shoving off for the Canadian Arctic where they breed and fledge young. Tom Lake.]

10/10 - Bedford, HRM 35: Flight-lines from the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch beyond the near northeast ridge seemed to run completely dry today, with nearly all migrants sourcing directly out of our east or far southeast of the watch platform. Also counted were three common ravens, 69 blue jays, 116 American robins, and one monarch. Current selected season totals are 12,233 broad-winged hawks and 1,330 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green

10/10 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: Eighty students from Pearl River, Clarkstown South, and Tappan Zee High Schools - and their teachers - ignored the cold and drizzle to become engrossed in studying the river as part of our "Day in the Life" program. Like doctors with a patient, they checked its temperature; respiration; chemistry; and nutrients. The river looked pretty healthy with salinity around 9.0 ppt, temperature 18 degrees C [65 F], and oxygen levels rising to 7.5 parts-per-million during our visit. While the group was disappointed in the low number of fish in our net, there was excitement over some of the catch: a mummichog (100 mm); several nickel-sized blue crabs; five small naked gobies; a few bay anchovies; striped bass; and a couple of white perch. We noted just a handful of Atlantic silversides where normally we net dozens or more. More excitement came from the hundreds of comb jellies (ctenophores) that were either scooped into the seine or lined the bottom of our traps.
- Margie Turrin, the Lamont-Doherty Team

10/10 - Manhattan, HRM 5: Speyer Legacy School students thought the tossing of an orange from the 69th Street Pier to measure currents was a great example of a discrepant event [a different way from the usual]. The wind was blowing strongly and its effect was very evident on the surface of the water. The students predicted that the orange would be pushed swiftly along by the wind, and they were amazed when the orange, at slack tide, simply sat in place. In that moment they saw the complexity of the water column and understood that wave direction and current direction were two very different things. We caught a fish that the students proudly and accurately identified (all by themselves, using the Clearwater dichotomous fish key) as a three-inch-long cunner. These students never had this type of experience and were overwhelmed by hauling up such beautiful fish and crabs. Large numbers of comb jellies ended up in the minnow traps as well. While the students were fascinated with the animals, the blue crabs stole the show!
- Kimberly Schwab

[Cunners (Tautogolabrus adspersus) are a member of the wrasse family, Labridae, closely related to the tautog or blackfish. They are commonly found in the lower estuary in many habitats but prefer rocky areas where they feed on small shellfish and mollusks. Anglers know them colloquially as "bergalls," and in New England they are called "chogies." Tom Lake.]

10/11 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: I keep hearing a song sparrow singing in the fields in the early morning. It seems unusual to be hearing them this late in the season. Perhaps it is because the weather has been so mild in the past few weeks. I wonder if he will be staying all winter?
- Kathy Kraft

10/11 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a bit of a surprise today at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch to see an initial mid-morning rush of birds passing fairly close to the watch platform. Despite lackluster thermals and heavy cloud cover, some migrants - sharp-shinned hawks in particular - were flying high enough to utterly vanish in low-hanging shreds of stratus clouds. Also counted were 56 blue jays and 83 American robins. Current selected season totals are 12,233 broad-winged hawks and 1,351 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green

10/11 - Manhattan, HRM 3.5: I walk through Bryant Park daily and while I frequently see pigeons and house sparrows, yesterday I noticed something different. It turned out to be a male common yellowthroat hopping among the flowering begonias, eating insects. Today I went back and saw a small flock of them, two males and four to six females. I also saw several dark-eyed juncos, four white-throated sparrows and a house wren, all in one small corner of the park.
- Caroline McDonald

10/12 - Cohoes, HRM 157: There was a low flow over the falls reflecting the recent lack of precipitation in the watershed. Great blue herons and cormorants were taking advantage of the shallow pools under the falls and downstream to fish. Hundreds of gulls, almost all ring-billed, lined the exposed rocky bottom.
- Tom Lake

[The Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River flow over graywacke (a hard sandstone) and shale, and range from 75-90 feet high. At a time in the past, these falls formed the boundary line between Mohawk territory to the west and Mohican Indian territory to the east. Tom Lake.]

10/12 - Green Island, HRM 153: The sumac reds, cottonwood golds, and bright sunshine made this an idyllic autumn day. At the head of tidewater the river was up and clear enough to spot a smallmouth bass prowling the shallows. A small squadron of dark dragonflies moved past; one broke off and ran a sortie around my head for no apparent reason before rejoining the flight.
- Tom Lake

10/12 - Ravena, HRM 124: Watching the leaves turn color as the days get shorter and the nights get colder is one of the perks of autumn. For a brief time the landscape looks like it's wearing a rainbow. But while the deciduous trees are getting ready for the winter, the conifers are making their own preparations. For the last couple of weeks, I've watched the pine trees around my house become loaded with yellowing needles among the green of this year's growth. This week it happened, as though they'd all gotten a signal, and they dropped them in one night. Underneath all the pines was a new thick carpet of shed needles.
- Larry Roth

10/12 - Bedford, HRM 35: Turkey vultures took center stage at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, accounting for two-thirds of the day's migrant count. Frequently a group of birds would appear over the near northeast ridge and then sneak away without much fanfare. Apart from a few stopover red-shouldered hawks and migrant sharp-shinned hawks, it was a very sparse showing. Also counted were 18 common ravens, 62 blue jays, and one monarch. Current selected season totals are 12,233 broad-winged hawks and 1,369 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

10/12 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The landfill was very active with sparrows - literally dozens of savannah and song sparrows. I had great looks at a vesper sparrow and eight to ten swamp sparrows. On a field off the landfill I found many chipping sparrows, a Lincoln's sparrow, at least six juncos, and two blue-headed vireos. Warblers were limited to large numbers of yellow-rumped, several palm warblers, and a few common yellowthroats. The highlight was at least 30 water pipits. There was also a huge blue jay movement of more than one hundred birds.
- Larry Trachtenberg

10/13 - Milan HRM 90: I collected a bucket of acorns to keep as winter treats for the squirrels. I put them in a large flower pot so that the drainage holes would allow for air circulation and brought them in the house. I soon noticed small cream-colored "grubs" on the hearth. After some investigation I identified them as black oak acorn weevil larvae (Curculio rectus). Looking at the acorns themselves you could plainly see the escape holes the larvae made to get out of their nursery.
- Marty Otter

10/13 - Bedford, HRM 35: Our first hour of the count at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch began with exceptionally good views of a sub-adult golden eagle that was flying only a stone's throw from the platform. It continued to fly in the area for another ten minutes before departing southeast. Current selected season totals are 12,233 broad-winged hawks and 1,376 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

10/14 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: We had a hooded warbler under the bird feeder today. The male is easy to spot with such a distinctive head, the black hood and bib, plus a very prominent black eye. It was very exciting to watch it stay close to the ground looking for bugs darting in and out of the shrubs. I found a few caterpillars, woolly bear, giant leopard moth, and a Virginia tiger moth (also called woolly bears) while cleaning up in the gardens.
- Carol Coddington

10/14 - Cold Spring to Bear Mountain, HRM 54-46: More than a hundred of us were on board the River Rose for an anniversary cruise for both Bedford and Saw Mill River Audubon. The day was perfect, with calm winds, bright sun, and a smooth tide. As would be expected we saw very little bird life (a river in "stress" seems to bring out the wildlife). Under the Bear Mountain Bridge we saw one of the resident peregrine falcons; passing West Point, Larry Trachtenberg spotted a red-shouldered hawk; and we all had good views of the white-wash below the raven and peregrine falcon eyries on both Storm King Mountain and Breakneck Ridge.
- Tom Lake

10/14 - Bedford, HRM 35: Indecisive winds often make for slow flights, and today was no exception at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Migrants were taking only to casual heights above the tree canopy. It was a sparse showing all around, although the osprey count is better than it had been. Also counted were three common ravens and 22 blue jays. Current selected season totals are 12,233 broad-winged hawks and 1,378 sharp-shinned hawks.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

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