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Hudson River Almanac October 29 - November 4, 2013

OVERVIEW

We passed the first anniversary of "Superstorm Sandy" with reminiscences of storm surge, high winds, and flooding. By comparison, our autumn has been very tranquil, with only eight rainy days in the last thirty-five (less than four inches of precipitation).

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/1 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I went to the river at the Norrie Point Environmental Center this evening to view the sunset. As Mary Oliver notes in her poem "Mindful:" "Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight. . ."
Sitting at a picnic table, my eye caught movement. Two sparrow-like birds were plying their way through the tidal residue, playing hop-scotch among the spiky "devil's heads" on the concrete deck. Thus cheerfully engaged, they seemed equally curious about me as I followed them, watching their pecking and gleaning of the cracks and crevices of the surface. Their coloration was spectacular: A rich mixture of predominantly white with ruddy brown and black streaks, a brown powder puff near each eye, and tufts of fluffy white feathers at the top of each leg. I realized that these were Arctic visitors - a pair of snow buntings!
- Pat Joel

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

10/29 - North Germantown, HRM 109: Eagles are now a common site along the Hudson, and I often see several in a day. But today was special. This morning I saw an adult bald eagle not far offshore circling and descending. It splashed into the water and bobbed up looking a lot like a trimaran - the head and both wings were up out of the water. The eagle ducked his head once or twice and then flew ponderously away with a foot-long fish in its talons. Later, I saw a bald eagle in the same area flying low with what looked like a small eel hanging from its talons. At day's end I was startled by an eagle perched in a nearby tree. He looked at me, hesitated, let out three loud calls, and then flew off. It could have been the same bird all three times.
- Kaare Christian

10/29 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: For sixteen days this fall, the simple pleasure of taking a walk in the National Park Service's Vanderbilt site was suspended. The impact was felt by many birders, walkers, joggers, college students, young couples, parents with young children in tow, and retirees on bus excursions - basically anyone who enjoys the natural beauty and history of the Hudson River Valley. The first day the parks reopened we passed by each other with wide smiles and greeted each other and the park rangers with a warm "Welcome back!" Spring and fall are the premiere outdoor seasons, times when I overhear many accents and languages from visitors who remind me that I live in close proximity to several national treasures. And when the thrum of tourist season begins to fade, the solitude of the winter gardens and fields; the vistas of the river in crisp weather; and a brisk invigorating post-holiday dinner walk all offer a respite from the hustle and bustle, and the animals and birds come to the forefront again.
- Pat Joel

10/29 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: There is an adage about estuaries that no one moment will ever occur exactly the same way again, that every minute of every hour is unique. Given all of the factors that go into an estuarine "moment," it seems logical. Thirty-one years ago today a moment occurred that, as far as I know, has never recurred. I was drift-fishing in the ebb current of the warm-water outflow from the Danskammer Point Power Generating Facility when a large school of small herring erupted from the water. Something was chasing them. At almost the same time a dozen fifteen-inch-long silvery flashes appeared and one hit my lure. The fish was an acrobat, leaping from the water, swapping ends, before splashing back. The hook pulled free but then another one struck. This one leaped boatside, landed on the gunwale, and teetered there for a few seconds before flopping into the boat. The rest of them dispersed never to be seen again, and I've been looking for 31 years.
- Tom Lake

[This was a school of ladyfish (Elops saurus), a tropical relative of the tarpon. Tropical marine strays, aided by the Gulf Stream and warming inshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic, are not uncommon in the Hudson. We fairly regularly see jacks, and on very rare occasions grouper, snapper, bonefish, and small barracuda. Ladyfish, however, have managed to remain an elusive memory. Tom Lake.]

10/29 - Hudson Valley: One year ago today Hurricane Sandy's storm surge struck the New York Bight, into New York Harbor, and up the estuary. Some 2012 observations for this day follow.

- Manhattan, New York City, HRM 0: A record high tide was recorded at the Battery of 13.88 feet (the predicted high tide was only 4.7 feet), inundating lower Manhattan. This bested the previous high of 10.02 feet, set in 1960 during Hurricane Donna. National Weather Service.

- Queens, New York City: While 80 mile per hour [mph] winds were not uncommon in Manhattan, a 100 mph gust was measured atop the Robert F. Kennedy Triboro Bridge. National Weather Service

- Manitou, HRM 46.5: Hurricane Sandy blew in on the Hudson River with extreme tides and lots of wind. Our weather station recorded a 53.4 mph gust. The water level at high tide was the highest we have had in 33 years. Owen Sullivan, Zshawn Sullivan

- Beacon, HRM 61: The vanguard of Hurricane Sandy's storm surge had arrived. With the aid of a near full moon high tide, Long Dock Park was entirely under water. Soon the river was rocking as the ebb tide started pushing against a strong southeast wind. At times like this, the river becomes a carnival ride for fish. In the driving rain we hauled our 85-foot-long seine in the parking lot 200 feet from the river, with no expectations, but managed to catch spottail shiners and banded killifish. Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, as well as the second-costliest hurricane in United States history. Classified as the eighteenth named storm, tenth hurricane and second major hurricane of the year, Sandy was a Category Three storm at its peak intensity when it made landfall in Cuba. While it was a Category Two storm off the coast of the northeastern United States, the storm became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record (as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles. Estimates assessed damage to have been over $68 billion, a total surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina. At least 286 people died along the path of the storm in seven countries. National Weather Service.]

10/29 - Bedford, HRM 35: We had a nice red-shouldered hawk flight at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today - 35 (112 for the season) - our high number for the year. To the south we spotted both an adult and an immature golden eagle. Also counted were 109 Canada geese, a common loon, 48 red-winged blackbirds, and two common ravens. Current selected season totals of vultures: 1,694 turkey vultures, 38 black vultures.
- Tait Johansson, Chet Friedman

10/30 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: The leaves that gave such a spectacular display this fall were starting to fade. The overall placid season offered an unusual opportunity to observe the succession of color transformation in the valley's trees. This was a gift, when one recalls those autumns when harsh wind, pelting rain, sleet and snow have abruptly stripped and snapped branches, leaving behind a splintered forest of shattered tree trunks. There is a majestic, aged ginkgo tree at the NPS Vanderbilt site that has survived many seasons. It is thought to have been planted in 1799 during the era of Samuel Bard, making it the oldest ginkgo tree in North America. As if aware of its dignified presence, it reserves its magical transformation for these final weeks of the season, eclipsing our awe of the previous display. Its leaves, still green, will turn into a sheer golden yellow. It offers a glorious and last hurrah for the season. The core of this ancient specimen is anchored by rods and poles - reminding me of Franklin D. Roosevelt who was similarly propped up by heavy braces for public appearances - projecting an image of vigor and enduring vitality, cheering us as we begin a new season with new challenges.
- Pat Joel

10/30 - West Point, HRM 51: While on a walk along the river at the South Dock area of West Point, I stopped at a small sandy beach. The water was calm and very clear. The tide and current were right and I could see the bottom quite a distance out in the shallow water. I noticed small fish breaking the surface here and there at a steady pace. They were white underneath, dark above, and too quick for me to get a picture. They were vigorous and while they reminded me of young-of-the-year [YOY] bluefish, I had no idea as to their identity.
- Doug Gallagher

[Such a description of physical appearance, behavior, and setting could fit several species. Killifishes and YOY herring are two possibilities. There has been an autumn run of the latter down through the Hudson Highlands in recent weeks. Both are known to regularly forage on insect larvae, appearing to "dimple" the water as they feed. The water temperature (58 degrees Fahrenheit) was getting a bit too cool for "snapper" bluefish. Tom Lake.]

10/30 - Bedford, HRM 35: Migrants were observed flying primarily at casual height over the tree tops at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. Exceptions were an immature northern harrier and an adult sharp-shinned hawk flying high enough to be grazing the rather low stratus ceiling and occasionally disappearing from view. Birds seemed to come almost straight out of our east. Also counted were American robins (1,543) and a common raven. Current selected season totals of vultures: 1,704 turkey vultures, 38 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

10/31 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Our first harbinger of winter, a dark-eyed junco, arrived at our bird feeder a few days ago. He has been feeding every day since, but the rest of his kind have yet to show. Today three turkey vultures were perched high in a sycamore tree appreciating the warm sun. Perhaps they were saying goodbye for the season.
- Barbara Wells

10/31 - Hyde Park, HRM 80: All Hallows Eve. For many fans of the season, Halloween is a time to dress up in scary costumes and go out for tricks or treats. I have my own tradition: I visit the grave of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit theologian, paleontologist, and renowned naturalist who died in 1955 and was buried on the grounds of the Culinary Institute. The graveyard is very colorful in autumn; its Japanese red maples radiate brilliant red and orange and its tall trees ordinarily cast long shadows. But a heavy morning fog and drizzle gave it a distinctly Gothic air. Amidst a hundred or more identical gravestones, de Chardin's is easy to find. There is always a collection of items - tokens of natural history - left by those paying homage. Like walking on marbles, a carpet of red oak acorns paved my pathway. I left an oyster shell from a prehistoric Hudson Valley site where it had been processed and left by an Algonquian Indian, or her ancestor, about 3,000 years ago. Teilhard de Chardin spent much of his life searching for common ground between Christian dogma and natural history, reconciling his faith with modern science. That made him a truly unique individual in his time.
- Tom Lake

[This Halloween tradition is a low-profile, unofficial version of such better known examples as "roses and cognac" to Edgar Allan Poe's crypt in Baltimore, or "flowers and poetry" to Jim Morrison's grave in Paris. In the instance of de Chardin, it is very simply means of remembering and appreciating a kindred soul. Tom Lake.]

10/31 - Bedford, HRM 35: A lone Cooper's hawk made its way past the cell tower at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch before exiting well to our south. Also counted were two eastern bluebirds and 135 American robins. The current season total of raptors and vultures was 17,009.
- Arthur W. Green, Gaelyn Ong

11/1 - Cheviot, HRM 106: I watched an adult bald eagle this morning circle and loop over the Hudson, the white of its feathers brilliant in the blue sky. Soon a crow began chasing it. One by one, more joined the dance until a total of five were almost surrounding the eagle. After only a few minutes the crows lost interest and settled into a tree. The eagle continued its circling and looping, finally swooping down to the water before landing on the causeway or pier.
- Jo Hills

11/1 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Although it was brief, a rip-roaring and violent storm arrived. Over 30 minutes in mid-morning, more than a half-inch of rain fell. The winds gusted over 35 mph and the river was tossed with rollers and swells. The ferocity and sounds of the storm seemed to permeate local classroom walls, leaving some elementary schoolchildren in tears. This was the first rain (0.78 inches) in ten days.
- Tom Lake

11/1 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a rather casual flight day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, primarily featuring turkey vultures. They were quicker than expected in lifting out of their night roosts and exiting far to the south. Also counted were 126 American robins. The day ended with spectacular back-lighting as the low sun in the west cast an amber glow on the surrounding landscape underneath mostly overcast skies. The underwings of turkey vultures wheeling about on the distant horizon flashed pure silver and the red/orange breasts of American robins passing over approached the brilliance of fire! Even the most "ordinary" birds take on something decidedly extraordinary as dusk approaches this time of year. Current selected season totals of vultures: 1,748 turkey vultures, 38 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

11/2 - Milan HRM 90: While filling the suet feeders today I heard the sound of a bird in distress. Following the sound, I found two tufted titmice fighting. One was clearly winning the battle. So much so that I chased the aggressor away only to have it return with the vengeance of a raptor. I knew I should not interfere in such things, but I could not watch the bird be attacked so badly. I again broke up the fight and removed the badly injured bird to a safe area.
- Marty Otter

11/2 - Dutchess County, HRM 77: I spotted a greater white-fronted goose today among a flock of Canada geese on a pond about a half-mile north of Salt Point. Also present were 50 American pipits and many killdeer.
- Chet Vincent

[The greater white-fronted goose, an Arctic breeder, appears once or twice most years during the fall or winter. It is usually found in a large Canada goose flock, a reward for the patient birder who carefully checks the goose flocks. Barbara Butler.]

11/2 - Chelsea, HRM 65.3: It may have been dawn but it was too cool for thermals, so nine black vultures were still hovering in their night roost, all tensed, lifting one foot, then the other, ready but still cautious.
- Tom Lake

[Author Edward Abbey refers to such buzzard assemblages as looking like "a convocation of undertakers." Tom Lake.]

11/2 - Beacon, HRM 61: While waiting at Beacon Landing this morning to take a boat to Bannerman Island for a tour, I spotted a different kind of "duck." It was a brant (Branta bernicla), it was alone, and after a few minutes, it took off.
- Ellen Rosenshein

11/2 - Beacon, HRM 61: Anglers on Long Dock were getting a steady pick of pumpkinseed sunfish, white perch, and brown bullheads. A few striped bass (12-16 inches long), were caught and released. Several carp anglers were having no luck fishing with corn. Despite nearly an inch of rain, salinity remained measurable at 1.5 parts per thousand [ppt]. The river was 58 degrees F.
- Tom Lake

[According to the U.S. Geological Survey's Hudson River salt front website, the leading edge of dilute seawater was well upriver at HRM 70.2 (near Clinton Point just north of New Hamburg) on this date - a reflection of the recent dry weather and lack of runoff from the watershed. Steve Stanne.]

11/2 - Bedford, HRM 35: Today's red-shouldered hawk total - 221 - at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch was not a typo. The noon hour saw a staggering 108 red-shouldered hawks recorded! Most of them were high, in small kettles and streams. We also saw five golden eagles within five minutes of each other as well as two common loons. Current selected season totals of vultures: 1,867 turkey vultures, 38 black vultures.
- Tait Johansson, Gaelyn Ong, Jack Kozuchowski

11/3 - Crugers, HRM 39: Our backyard feeders were being overrun with chickadees, tufted titmice, blue jays, mourning doves and sparrows. And today we welcomed our first dark-eyed juncos of the season, a total of eight, ground-feeding under our olive tree.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

11/3 - Bedford, HRM 35: Unlike late October, turkey vultures and sharp-shinned hawks were now rapidly becoming the minority of each day's flight at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch. There were better than expected numbers of red-shouldered hawks and red-tailed hawks moving through, most of them at moderate height, some rather high although still remaining detectable by the unaided eye. Also counted were two common ravens, a red-throated loon, a common loon, eighteen red-winged blackbirds, 216 American robins, 1,033 Canada geese, and about 80 brant. Current selected season totals of vultures: 1,885 turkey vultures, 38 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Bill Anderson

11/3 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 12.5: I spent some time at the overlook on the ridge that looks out toward the Palisades from Inwood Hill Park, recording 46 bird species. The highlights, all southbound, included a flock of about 70 snow geese high overhead, one or two small flocks of brant, a flock of fifteen long-tailed ducks (mostly males) flying low over the Hudson, one common loon, and a dozen bald eagles (at least two adults) flying over the river.
- Joe DiCostanzo

11/4 - Millbrook, HRM 82: It was reminiscent of the Hitchcock movie "The Birds": One moment the only sound was of black-and-white Holstein dairy cows feeding on alfalfa; the next, the trees all around were filled with hundreds of raucous blackbirds. The din was deafening. Most were starlings, but mixed in were red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds. It seemed ironic - being in the midst of cows - to have dozens of cowbirds in the trees overhead. A dozen large trees filed and emptied in less than 30 minutes, and the quiet resumed.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

11/4 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: Wappinger Lake was filling with visitors. The eighteen local mute swans and domestic ducks have been joined by great blue herons and, most recently, a common egret. The cryptic presence of a pair of wood ducks makes them difficult to spot most days. A flock of American coot has been at the lake for while now, along with both hooded and common mergansers and a few pied-billed grebes.
- Terry Hardy, Tom Ferber

11/4 - Beacon, HRM 61: I saw a solo brant grazing along the riverbank near the train station. First reported two days ago, it was still alone although a small flock of Canada geese was patrolling the nearby park. After seeing multitudes of Canada geese during the course of the year, the little brant up close was a welcome sight.
- Dave Conover

11/4 - Fishkill, HRM 61: There were two beautiful rainbow-colored sun dogs in the western sky about 4:00 p.m. today, flanking the sun but with good separation. These were the nicest sun dogs I had seen in some time.
- Lee Banner

11/4 - Rockland County, HRM 35: I watched a great sun dog this afternoon to the south of the setting sun over High Tor.
- Scott Craven

[A sun dog - "parhelion" to meteorologists, from Greek meaning "by or near the sun" - is a bright spot of light in the sky on either side, and often both sides, of the sun. They are commonly observed as ice crystals in cirrus clouds refract sunlight passing through them when the sun is low in the sky. Steve Stanne.]

11/4 - Bedford, HRM 35: This was a flight day right from the get-go at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, with many migrants passing high overhead or just south of the watch platform. A few birds were especially sneaky as they flew south directly over the ridge where we're stationed, sometimes barely visible from where we usually stand. Also counted were three common ravens and 802 American robins. Current selected season totals of vultures: 1,954 turkey vultures, 39 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

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