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Hudson River Almanac October 22 - October 28, 2013

OVERVIEW

With just 0.02 inches of rain this week (less than 3.0 for the month), conditions were dry and measurable salinity remained above the Hudson Highlands. We continued through the various and predictable phases of autumn migration in the air, from broad-winged hawks to sharp-shinned hawks, and now turkey vultures. The first snow geese were passing as well.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

10/28 - Kerhonkson, Ulster County, HRM 92: Several days ago I found eight monarch butterfly caterpillars. This is an extremely late date to find them still in New York. Most would have pupated, emerged, and already begun their long journey south to Mexico. For the past 25 summers I have raised (and set free) hundreds of monarchs. During late August this year, in a field where it is not unusual for me to find a dozen eggs and eighteen caterpillars each day, I found only one. My summer travels from Michigan to New Brunswick were almost completely devoid of butterflies of any species. By the end of August I had stopped looking for monarchs. You can imagine my delight and surprise when, at this late October date, I found monarch caterpillars. My soul is lifted by the thought that perhaps these eight caterpillars may make it to Mexico. Today each hangs in its own priceless chrysalis. Hopefully I can time it right so some children will watch them emerge with me. By that time, however, will it be too cold for the butterflies to fly to Mexico? I don't know.
- Betty Boomer

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/22 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: This was the fourteenth anniversary of the serendipitous discovery (no one was looking for it) of the Hyde Park mastodont. These are an extinct form of elephant that roamed the Hudson Valley in the Late Pleistocene during the time when it is believed that the first Native Americans arrived here and the Hudson River was becoming an estuary. The American mastodont (Mammut americanum) was part of a faunal community - many members of which are now extinct - that included American elk, ground sloth, woodland caribou, giant beaver, horse, flat-headed peccary, and stag-moose.
- Tom Lake

[An exact replica cast of the nearly 12,000 year-old Hyde Park mastodont is on permanent display at the Mid-Hudson Children's Museum in Poughkeepsie. The original animal stood ten feet high at the shoulder and weighed 10,000 lb. The 1999-2000 excavation was not unlike entering a time machine and the museum display gives us a great appreciation of the tremendous time-depth of our Hudson Valley region. Tom Lake.]

10/22 - Kowawese, HRM 59: It is hard to beat seining at sunrise on the west side of the river. In a season of migration, from fish to waterfowl, we can also observe sunrise migrating over a different hill each morning, always just a little farther south. It seems like a curtain closing on a theatrical event. Today it came up over Sugarloaf Mountain. A brisk south wind was pushing head-on into the last of the ebb tide and rollers were coming onto the beach. This created a high-energy zone of suspended food and confusing water just a few feet offshore. In this swash we caught five 20-inch-long channel catfish with bulging abdomens, as well as a score or more of large white perch. Among the smaller fishes, potential meals, were young-of-the-year striped bass 78-96 millimeters [mm] long, American shad (110-112 mm), and more channel catfish (55-75 mm). The salinity was 1.8 parts per thousand [ppt] and the water was 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

10/22 - Wurtsboro, HRM 67: We got good looks at a cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii) within 70 feet of the barn at the Camel Farm.
- Dick Riley, Adrienne Popko

[The newly recognized cackling goose is a smaller version of the Canada goose. Formerly considered the smallest subspecies of one variable species, recent work on genetic differences found the four smallest forms to be very different. These four races are now recognized as a full species: the cackling goose. It breeds farther northward and westward than does the Canada goose. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.]

10/22 - Bedford, HRM 35: A pre-frontal push of migrants (mostly turkey vultures and sharp-shinned hawks) at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch kept us entertained through midday, when activity sharply dropped off as a cold front began sweeping through the area. Overall, there was little-to-no evidence of thermals; even turkey vultures were expending energy to stay aloft. Also counted were two common ravens, a common loon, a red-throated loon, five eastern bluebirds, and 55 American robins. Current season totals of vultures: 819 turkey vultures, 29 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

10/23 - Ulster County, HRM 97: This morning I woke up to a light frost, the first of the season. Maybe this will knock back the katydids! They were still singing at dusk last night.
- Scott Davis

10/23 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: During a lunchtime stroll along the Marist College waterfront, I walked down a boat launch ramp to see what might be swimming there. No swimmers were to be seen, but an unwelcome crawler was: a mitten crab with its long legs and rather small body (carapace two to two-and-a-half-inches across). It was in shallow water not far down the ramp, but as I moved to capture it the crab skittered away into the depths. [The previous mitten crab find in the estuary occurred in the Sawkill, HRM 98.5, on August 19.]
- Steve Stanne

[The Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) is native to the estuaries of China where it is highly regarded in the market. There is genetic evidence that the east coast mitten crabs arrived in the U.S. from Europe via commercial traffic, much like zebra mussels in 1988. Mitten crabs are catadromous, meaning that they spend much of their life in freshwater, then return to higher salinities in the lower estuary (15-20 ppt) to reproduce. The salinity gradients of east coast estuarine systems like the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and the Hudson River are nearly ideal for them. Adult mitten crabs have a carapace width of about 3", but six of its 8 legs are almost twice as long, giving them a spider crab "look." Unlike the native blue crab, a swimming crab, mitten crabs are burrowing crabs, similar to our mud crabs only many times larger. They have a generalist diet, varied in prey, and their potential ecological impact on east coast estuaries is still unknown.
If you catch a mitten crab, do not release it back to the water. Keep it and freeze it (preserve in alcohol if you can't freeze it). Note the date and location where caught (GPS coordinates preferred but pinpointed on a map is acceptable) and how you caught it. If possible, take close-up photos showing top and bottom views of the animal. You may e-mail photo to SERCMittenCrab@si.edu for identification. The Mitten Crab Network, a partnership among several state, federal and research organizations, is collecting data to determine the status, abundance, and distribution of this species. The DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources has agreed to collect and hold specimens for genetics testing to determine the origin of individuals caught in the Hudson River. You may collect and hold mitten crabs for the sole purpose of turning the crab over to the Department, and - within 48 hours of collection - contact one of the following individuals:

Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and Hudson River below George Washington Bridge: Kim McKown, NYS DEC Division of Fish Wildlife and Marine Resources Crustacean Unit, 631-444-0454
Hudson River above George Washington Bridge: Sarah Fernald, NYS DEC Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, Hudson River Estuary Research Reserve, 845-889-4745.]
10/23 - Warwick, HRM 41: I was traveling in late afternoon as the sky filled with many hundreds of Canada geese. I was south of the village where there are a lot of wetlands. Geese were landing, taking off, literally flying in every direction and at all different altitudes. Some formations were so high that they were hard to see - just little specks.
- Cathy Rudy

10/23 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had a very relaxed flight at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch with no high-flyers. Several small turkey vulture kettles were seen late in the day. Most remarkable was a short-eared owl that flew at a very casual height above the tree canopy just south of the watch platform. This bird was intensively harassed by two common ravens. Also counted were about 1,200 common grackles (one flock) and 63 American robins. Current season totals of vultures: 858 turkey vultures, 29 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

10/23 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The well-vegetated landfill was crawling with bird life. There were so many sparrows that keeping optics on just one took much willpower as dozens of other passed by. Most common were savannah, song, swamp, and chipping sparrows. More than just a few eastern meadowlarks were also glimpsed briefly before disappearing into the shrubbery. The river was 62 degrees F and the salinity 6.5 ppt.
- Tom Lake

[A half-mile south at the mouth of the Croton River, the water was much cooler - 57 degrees F - and the salinity much lower - 2.25 ppt. This was likely attributable to the cold, fresh water coming downstream from the Croton Reservoir. Tom Lake.]

10/23 - Manhattan, HRM 12.5 Near the north end of Inwood Hill Park, I noticed three large birds in flight. One broke off but two flew toward me. It wasn't clear if they were playing or harassing each other, but they twisted and turned, stalled and recovered, as they flew. Just as I was able to see that they were both eagles, an adult and an immature, I heard one of them calling. I've listened to recordings of eagle calls but this was the first time I heard them live. They continued the antics and calls as they passed overhead before turning north to disappear on the far side of Inwood Hill.
- Kaare Christian

10/24 - Bedford, HRM 35: Most of today's excellent turkey vulture flight at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch happened in the afternoon. Had there been more than one observer present, the count certainly would have been higher. Also counted were 161 Canada geese (eleven flocks), six wood ducks, and a monarch. Current season totals of vultures: 1,111 turkey vultures, 29 black vultures.
- Tait Johansson

10/24 - Piermont, HRM 25: I was walking back along the pier closer to dark than to dusk when a bird landed near a grassy shoulder thirty feet from me. I could just make out the silhouette through my binoculars: low to the ground with a very long bill. It was a woodcock. As I approached it took off with a twitter and landed a bit farther down the road. Eventually it left.
- Linda Pistolesi

10/25 - Albany, HRM 145: Fish tend to retreat from the Hudson's shallows as cold weather arrives, but repeated seine hauls at the Corning Preserve's boat launch netted a number of the usual suspects: four spottail shiners, six banded killifish, and a couple of bluegills. We did have one surprise, a tiny blue crab (15 mm carapace width). It's not unusual to find blue crabs in freshwater this far upriver, but to find one this small this late in the season seemed out of the ordinary. Blue crab larvae need salt water to develop; in the short time since it molted from its last larval stage into a miniature version of an adult, this crab had traveled 120-150 miles.
- Steve Stanne, Rebecca Houser, Chris Bowser

10/25 - Beacon, HRM 60: Fishing in Denning's Point bay I caught and released two carp, five channel catfish, and three brown bullheads. The largest carp measured 25 inches long (estimated weight: 8 lb.); the largest channel cat measured 22 inches (estimated weight: 3 lb.). I was standing for the entire five-hour session, with bite after bite, fishing two rods. The circle hooks I used really proved their value in hook-ups and safe release. Once the cooler weather gets rid of the water chestnut, the bay area becomes accessible and productive.
- Bill Greene

10/25 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The river finally fell below 60 degrees F here, making wading problematic. Catches from our seine hauls were sparse with perch (yellow perch and tessellated darters) most numerous. One delightful surprise was the several mummichogs (71-73 mm) we caught. The river was 58 degrees F and the salinity 1.8 ppt.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Mummichogs are killifish, but they are less common in most parts of the estuary than the banded killifish. Their name is a derivation, a phonetic representation, of an Algonquian (river Indian) word that means "fishes that go in crowds," an observation of their tendency to form large schools. Tom Lake.]

10/25 - Bedford, HRM 35: Another decent day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch with turkey vultures and sharp-shinned hawks still occupying center stage, but with good overall species diversity including a juvenile northern goshawk. Also counted were four common ravens, about 800 common grackles (probably badly undercounted), a common loon, 114 snow goose (one flock), and 521 Canada geese (22 flocks). Current season totals of vultures: 1,162 turkey vultures, 32 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaylen Ong

10/26 - Beacon, HRM 61: We went for a late afternoon walk along the Fishkill Creek's Klara Sauer Trail. We got closeup sightings of pairs of both golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets, along with a brown creeper, all foraging around the same tree. We were about to head back when out of nowhere an adult bald eagle silently glided into view fifteen feet above us. We watched as it steadily flew along the old railway line while being buffeted by the wind, looking around from side to side as it went - a real unexpected treat. The bird was banded but it was impossible to read any numbers.
- Jamie Collins, Leena Bjork

10/26 - Pollepel Island, HRM 58: I spotted a single great cormorant (an adult) in with a dozen double-crested cormorants on a navigation buoy next to Bannerman's (Pollepel) Island.
- Ken McDermott

10/26 - Warwick, HRM 41: The Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club walked the Liberty Marsh Loop Trail today and we spotted a Le Conte's sparrow. We watched it for an hour at a distance of only 25 feet, a look that you never get with this species.
- Ken McDermott

[Le Conte's sparrow has never been recorded for Orange County. This sighting occurred a couple of hundred yards into New Jersey. Although it was a great sighting, and the bird undoubtedly came through Orange County, it was still no record for us. This very secretive sparrow nests in prairies and grasslands of central and southern Canada and extreme north-central U.S., and winters in the lower Mississippi River basin and along the Gulf Coast. Curt McDermott, Steve Stanne.]

10/26 - Bedford, HRM 35: How fortunate to have a second peak turkey vulture day this season at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch! Within 50 minutes in midday, 139 of them moved through. Also spotted were nine red-winged blackbirds. Current season totals of vultures: 1,419 turkey vultures, 33 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaylen Ong

10/26 - Croton Bay, HRM 33.5: No fewer than 40 black ducks were trying to forage in the near-shore shallows at Crawbuckie while at the same time dealing with a strong southwest breeze that had the bay capped over. I wondered if their energy expenditure exceeded the calories they gained from foraging.
- Tom Lake

[Crawbuckie is a colloquial name used to describe the low-tide beach facing Croton Bay along a mile of shoreline between the mouth of the Croton River and Ossining (river miles 34-33). The origin of the name is hazy but it has been commonly used by local rivermen for well over a century. It became famous in the 1960s and 70s among striped bass anglers, when catching one of any size was big news. Tom Lake.]

10/27 - Papscanee Island, HRM 142: Two days later and a few miles south of the boat launch in Albany, we seined up another tiny blue crab, this one 17 millimeters across its shell (carapace).
- Steve Stanne, George Steele

10/27 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Most of the trees in my yard had lost their leaves, making the upper canopy in the woods very visible. High up in one tree laden with Virginia creeper berries was a large pileated woodpecker, clinging to the tree's trunk but stretching its neck far out to reach some of the berries. Meanwhile, several robins were waiting their turn at the available crop, until one brave, impatient robin chased the pileated woodpecker off to another tree across the road.
- Ed Spaeth

10/27 - Bedford, HRM 35: Yet another peak day of turkey vultures at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch with two distinct pushes of migrants in the morning and at the end of the count. It also seemed like we were starting to enter into peak red-shouldered hawk numbers (fifteen for the day; 67 for the season). Also counted were 78 American robins, 125 Atlantic brant, and a monarch. Current season totals of vultures: 1,530 turkey vultures, 37 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaylen Ong

10/28 - Crugers, HRM 39: I stepped out of my house this morning to discover a rufous-sided towhee in my fenced-in garden. I had not seen one of these for a while and I was wondering what it might have been eating (seeds from coneflower?). It had a little trouble negotiating the black mesh surrounding the area, but eventually found its way out and flew away.
- Susan Butterfass

10/28 - Bedford, HRM 35: Turkey vultures were still making up a good percentage of the count at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. There were still very few kettles and most vulture migrants were exiting solo or as a stream of no more than eight. Highlight of the count was a sub-adult male northern harrier that flew over the tree line not far from the platform. Also counted were 1,186 Atlantic brant (five flocks, the largest of which was 480 birds), 285 snow geese (two flocks), and 51 Canada geese. Current season totals of vultures: 1605 turkey vultures, 38 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaylen Ong

10/28 - Croton Point, HRM 35: We hauled our seine through a "collection basin" of a season's leaves. The autumn tides had pushed and pulled oak, ash, maple, box elder (ash-leaf maple), willow, locust, cottonwood, sycamore, and even some sassafras leaves into a small area beneath a northeast-facing breakwater. Our net caught mummichogs and banded killifish as well as small blue crabs and several excellent "barnacle sticks" with many fresh and healthy bay barnacles attached. A short distance away, nestled in some invasive Eurasian water milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), we caught northern pipefish (80-85 mm) and grass shrimp (Paleomonetes pugio; 45-50 mm). The water was 57 degrees F and, despite no recent rain, the salinity was down to 5.2 ppt.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Grass shrimp is a collective name for three species of small shrimp found in the salty and brackish waters of the lower Hudson River, including two species of shore shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio) and (P. vulgaris), and sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa). "Grass" is a colloquial reference to their preferred habitat, submerged aquatic vegetation in the estuarine shallows. Tom Lake.

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