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Hudson River Almanac October 15 - October 21, 2013

OVERVIEW

This week may have been the peak of turkey vulture migration. Cold weather limits the thermals that are an important part of the vulture's scavenging strategy. Recently, however, somewhat milder winters have resulted in small numbers of vultures staying home, at least until a big freeze occurs.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/18 - Poestenkill, HRM 151.5: We were electro-shocking, looking for logperch, and although we did not catch any, we did turn up two large (13-inch-long) mudpuppies!
- Bob Schmidt, Bryan Weatherwax, Jeremy Wright

A painting of a mudpuppy

[The mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus) is an amphibian, related to toads and frogs but truly unique. Roger Tory Peterson calls mudpuppies "...big bizarre salamanders that look more like bad dreams than live animals." Their most prominent features are their large size - they average 8-13" long - and gills that look like feathery plumes. In the South they are called waterdogs, and smaller ones are used for live bait. Mudpuppies will eat almost any aquatic animals they can swallow. Tom Lake. Mudpuppy art by Jean Gawalt.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/15 - Essex County: It continued to be a warm fall in the Adirondacks - each year becomes more worrisome. This September was about the most beautiful that I can ever recall. Ruby-throated hummingbirds stayed quite late, as late as September 24 in Long Lake, the same day that I saw my first white-crowned sparrow.
- Joan Collins

10/15 - East Chatham, HRM 129: I was sitting on the lawn overlooking our half-acre pond in the beautiful autumn sunshine when a huge bird, a raptor, swooped down, made a sweeping turn, flew high, and then plunged straight into the pond like a northern gannet. When it flew up and over the pond again, I realized it was an osprey, in gorgeous snowy white and jet black plumage. It circled twice again and then left. I was left sitting, mouth agape. I never thought I'd see an osprey at our country pond. It may have been after the largemouth bass.
- Jane Chelius

10/15 - Town of Marbletown, Ulster County, HRM 92: We spotted an adult female dickcissel along Fording Place Road on the Lomontville Flats late this morning. The bird was not associating with any other birds. We watched the bird fly across the road into brushy vegetation and back again, providing several nice views of this bird's unmistakable field marks. Dickcissels are sparrow-like birds more typical of interior prairie grasslands, and are considered rare or "accidental" in Ulster County. The presence of this vagrant female was even more intriguing in the context of a previously documented sighting, nearly a year ago (October 20, 2012), of an adult male dickcissel in the same general area.
- Steve M. Chorvas, Frank Murphy

10/15 - Bedford, HRM 35: Out of 151 migrants for the day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, only seventeen weren't vultures! One of these was a rather late adult broad-winged hawk that may be our last of the season. This bird was seen near the tail-end of a stream of fifty-five turkey vultures and five black vultures. Also counted were 96 brant (one flock). Current selected season totals of vultures: 319 turkey vultures, 19 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

10/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I had seen a few white-tail deer buck rubs on saplings earlier this fall but saw my first deer scrape of the season today (and I have been looking for them every day). It is always a surprise to see all the buck activity in the fall. They are more secretive than does and I see very few in my woodland travels. Another great autumn sight is the tamarack; these deciduous conifers are now wearing lovely yellow-needled outfits. Their golden foliage stands out in such beautiful contrast to the grays and browns of the leafless deciduous trees and is even more vibrant when showcased against the evergreens. There is always something visually appealing to appreciate.
- Charlotte Demers

10/16 - Monroe, Orange County, HRM 46: There were six northern shovelers on the lake shore today. They mingled easily with domestic ducks and all were brown with no breeding color patterns. Some had darker heads and darker bills, and a few had rusty colored flanks. When they were on the lake they almost looked like ruddy ducks compared to the mallards and domestic ducks that were around them. It was that long bill that clinched it and they were a delightful little group to watch.
- Lyn Nelson, Debbie Korwan

10/16 - Crugers, HRM 39: The resident great blue heron was not in its usual spot at Ogilvie's Pond today, but rather walking around in a small residential pond right across the street from our house. We enjoyed watching it navigate the circumference of the pond, slowly moving between the pond lilies. Since the water was so still, its reflection was very pronounced and it reminded us of a swan since its legs were completely submerged and it seemed to be floating on the water.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

10/16 - Grassy Point, HRM 38.5: The tideline on the beach between the breakwaters had a thin scattering of wild celery (Vallisneria), reminding us how this place earned its name. The salinity was 6.2 parts per thousand [ppt], and the river was still a surprisingly warm 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/16 - Bowline Point, HRM 37: A little farther downriver, amid millions of culled bricks (remnants of the brick factories of the nineteenth and early twentieth century), we hauled our seine with surprisingly poor results. Other than a few small eels and killifish, the net came in empty. As the tide ebbed, the salinity rose to 6.5 ppt.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/16 - Bedford, HRM 35: There was very little species variation throughout the day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch with the mid-to-late afternoon dominated by sharp-shinned hawks and turkey vultures. Also counted were 129 brant (two flocks) and 68 American robins. Current selected season totals of vultures: 351 turkey vultures, 24 black vultures.
- Gaelyn Ong

10/17 - Kowawese, HRM 59: as we hauled our gear to the beach we were serenaded by the croaks of several ravens overhead. A strong south wind had rollers on the beach creating a high-energy zone in the "swash" (the littoral zone). We wondered if the tumult might have attracted foraging fish. Our first seine haul verified that guess with several large white perch 190-210 millimeters [mm] long. Our net also caught several young-of-the-year [YOY] American shad (110-112 mm). After ten days with no rain, we were surprised that the salinity had dropped to 2.2 ppt. The river was still warm at 67 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[We took another look at the "yearling alewives" we reported from this beach and at Cornwall for the October 10 "Day in the Life" programs. Our initial field identification of the herring we caught that day (based on jaw angle and eye diameter) was yearling alewife. Karin Limburg, a professor at SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry, did some further analyses on these fish and concluded that they are YOY American shad of a size and in a place not typical for this life stage. Tom Lake.]

10/17 - Bedford, HRM 35: There was another push of migrating turkey vultures today at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. The largest stream/kettle was nineteen birds. Current selected season totals of vultures: 468 turkey vultures, 24 black vultures.
- Tait Johansson

10/17 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The vegetation left unmown this fall on the Croton Point landfill has been continually attracting and feeding a nice show of sparrows. The best activity today was on the south side with savannah (40+), song (20+), and Lincoln's sparrows (2). There were also glimpses of a possible clay-colored sparrow. A red cedar by the campground was still full with fruit and 40+ yellow-rumped warblers were feeding on it. Elsewhere, cedar waxwings and robins were competing with starling flocks for dogwood berries and the remaining poison ivy berries. Areas of brush had good numbers of white-throated sparrows moving through with several swamp sparrows, two eastern towhees, and two brown thrashers.
- Anne Swaim

10/17 - Ossining, HRM 33: While driving this morning our attention was caught by the sight of eleven wild turkeys walking in a line on a wide expanse of grass. The first and last of them were somewhat larger than the nine in the middle, possibly the parents of the almost full-grown poults.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Linda Rivers

10/18 - Minerva, HRM 284: This afternoon I had a squirrel encounter. This was no ordinary red squirrel; it was a northern flying squirrel hanging out on a tree trunk only ten feet away. I thought this was unusual since they are normally quite nocturnal. As I was driving home tonight from North Creek, I nearly hit a gray fox that ran out in front of me, angling across the road. It was a beautiful creature, for sure.
- Mike Corey

10/18 - Tivoli, HRM 99: While enjoying the river views this evening, I noticed a disturbance twenty feet from shore. At first I thought it was the water breaking on rocks or a piling, but then it began moving downriver against the tide. After a few minutes I was able to see the top of its head, and it was a river otter.
- Marty Otter

10/18 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: I saw and photographed a vesper sparrow this morning in the Stony Kill Farm Community Gardens. Although the vesper sparrow is a summer resident, it is only rarely seen during October migration, when it frequents weedy fields and gardens.
- Steve Golladay

[According to Sibley's Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, the vesper sparrow is similar to a savannah sparrow but is larger, with a longer tail with white outer tail feathers and a complete white eye-ring. Deb Kral.]

10/18 - Bedford, HRM 35: Turkey vultures remained our flagship migrant at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, accounting for two-thirds of the day's flight. Apart from sharp-shinned hawks, however, there was very sparse representation of other species. Also counted were two common ravens, 258 Canada geese (nine flocks), and 69 brant (two flocks). Current selected season totals of vultures: 555 turkey vultures, 24 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

10/19 - Ulster Landing, HRM 97: I spotted a solitary monarch going south along the shore on the last of these warm October days.
- Peg Duke

[There are two major migratory monarch populations in North America, east of Rockies and west of Rockies. Each year, the final brood of summer monarchs in the East flies down to winter in the Oyamel fir forests in the Transvolcanic Mountains of Michoacn, Mexico (2,400-3,600 meters elevation). Historically, millions of monarchs have congregated in this small area in Mexico each winter. Many of these southbound emigrants come from the Eastern North America, but numerically most hail from the upper Midwest. In the spring, new broods travel north, repopulating North America.
Recently, illegal logging in Mexico has damaged the wintering sites. More importantly, perhaps, much of the corn grown in the Midwest is genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides; farmers douse the landscape to eliminate weeds, thus destroying the host plant for monarchs (milkweeds), while leaving the corn unaffected. Some are now suggesting this will lead to a loss in the biological phenomenon of monarch migration. Invertebrates are hearty and resilient, but there is no telling how long they will be able to withstand the headwinds they now face. Rick Cech, author of Butterflies of the East Coast: An Observer's Guide.]

10/19 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a rather interesting morning flight at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, consisting mostly of turkey vultures and sharp-shinned hawks. Two red-shouldered hawks afforded great views while they were circling, and a third-year bald eagle flew directly over our heads. Also counted were 67 American robins and two monarchs. Current selected season totals of vultures: 578 turkey vultures, 24 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong, Chet Friedman, Chris Franks

A red-throated loon wading in the river with its neck fully extended

10/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: On a walk of the Point today, the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club documented 50 different species but the bird of the day had to be our last, spotted at the kayak launch at the mouth of the Croton River. There we saw a red-throated loon in breeding plumage. It was well seen by spotting scope, with its light gray head, small delicate upturned bill, vertical black and white stripes low on the hind-neck, red on the throat, and a dark un-patterned back. It was a big thrill for all and a "lifer" for some. [Photo of red-throated loon courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Peter Johnson, Ajit Antony

[Keeping a life list is a common activity for many naturalists. Typically these are compilations of related species, like postcards from one's travels through life. Some people keep bird lists; for others it's fish, flowers, butterflies, insects, mushrooms... Anyone can keep a list of almost anything that ultimately gives them a better context and appreciation for the natural world. Tom Lake.]

10/20 - Milan, HRM 90: When I visited a pond on my property to clean out a wood duck nest box I noticed the pond had a large number of tadpoles! No legs yet, so they have a long way to go to become frogs.
- Marty Otter

10/20 - Kowawese, HRM 59: At first light, the near-full moon had just fallen behind the trees. More than a hundred Canada geese had set down overnight in Cornwall Bay and, as the sun peeked over Sunset Mountain, they all took off and headed away. At 61 degrees F the river was twenty degrees warmer than the air, and it felt good. We hauled our net looking for more of the extra-large YOY American shad we had been seeing here over the last two weeks, and we found them (114-115 mm). Mixed in were many YOY striped bass (57-87 mm) as well. The small amount of overnight rain (0.15) may have been enough to lower the salinity to 2.0 ppt.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/20 - Mountainville, Orange County, HRM 56: I saw a small black bear (immature) nosing at roadkill near the Storm King sculpture park.
- L. Soles

10/20 - Bedford, HRM 35: Turkey vultures and sharp-shinned hawks remained our constant at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, contributing 88 percent of the day's flight. A couple of sharp-shinned hawks took dives at our bird feeder in the afternoon. Also counted were 368 Canada geese, 45 brant, four common ravens, and two monarchs. Current selected season totals of vultures: 654 turkey vultures, 24 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong, Steve Walter

10/21 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: It was not surprising that we found an immature bald eagle perched in a dead tree at the base of Denning's Point. The tide was low and the prospects for hunting the shallows were good.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

10/21 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a challenging day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Blue skies overhead and strong thermal "shimmer" meant very strong convective updrafts to take raptors to great heights. In spite of that, it was a decent enough mid-October count with most observed migrants passing at height over the near northeast ridge or far to our south/southeast. Turkey vultures began leaving one at a time in late morning. There was no kettling until mid-afternoon, when a group of 31 birds lifted out from behind the near northeast ridge and departed west-southwest. Also counted were one common raven, four long-tailed ducks, and 382 Canada geese (fourteen flocks). Current selected season totals of vultures: 756 turkey vultures, 26 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

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