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Hudson River Almanac November 5 - November 11, 2013

OVERVIEW

Migration continued, with waterfowl and raptors moving through the valley and winter birds arriving from points north. There was little precipitation. Southeastern New York remained abnormally dry, and the salt front - the leading edge of dilute seawater in the Hudson estuary - remained in the vicinity of Newburgh.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/11 - Selkirk, HRM 135: I was driving home at dusk this evening when a very long, sleek, black, furry mammal ran across the road. I stopped the car and got a good look as the animal made its way up into the woods. It was a fisher. Just over the hill is Onesquethaw Creek, and it is very dry at this time of the year.
- Roberta S. Jeracka

[The fisher or "fisher-cat" is our largest weasel, reaching over 40 inches in length. While fishers are seen periodically in the Catskills and Adirondacks, they are uncommon in the Mid-Hudson Valley. While the name of this furbearer suggests an aquatic habitat and diet, it actually much prefers dense forests and porcupines. The fisher has re-established populations in other parts of the state; many reported sightings of "black panthers" have been confirmed as fishers. Ellen Rathbone.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/5 - Hudson Valley: The 114th annual Christmas Bird Count is approaching. This is the nation's longest running citizen-science effort, held throughout the country at year's end - usually in December. It replaced the Victorian era "side-shoot," during which guests went out to shoot as many different bird and mammal species as possible on Christmas Day. In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman organized a group of friends to observe, count, and share information about bird species without shooting them. The National Audubon Society, which Chapman helped organize, now sponsors this annual tradition. As an enlightened alternative, thousands of people go out to count as many bird species as their group can in a sporting, competitive way. The result has been the gathering of significant data used to monitor changes in bird populations and distribution over the years. For details on Christmas Bird Counts in your area, go to the New York State Ornithological Association's website.
- Rich Guthrie

11/5 - Dutchess County, HRM 96: Adrienne Popko, Dick Ryley, and Maha Katnani reported a cackling goose at "The Fly," a wetland pond north of Pine Plains on Route 82. The bird was easily viewed with hundreds of Canada geese on the northern edge of the wetland. Also present were green-winged teal and a few northern pintails.
- Deb Tracy-Kral

11/5 - Shawangunk Grasslands, Ulster County, HRM 78: We counted nine short-eared owls at the Shawangunk National Wildlife Refuge Grasslands this evening.
- Curt McDermott, Ken McDermott

11/5 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: It was a sunny afternoon, bright with autumn colors and bluebirds, at Blue Mountain Reservation. We paused for long minutes to enjoy a flock of two dozen, flitting through a picnic area, out-bluing the sky.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

11/5 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a more haphazard migration with very messy flight-lines at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today. Most were flying at casual height although an occasional bird was observed moving high enough to be almost undetectable without binoculars. Also counted were three common ravens and 681 American robins. Current season totals of vultures: 1,982 turkey vultures, 39 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

11/5 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: At dusk I spotted a northern harrier skimming the grass tops on the landfill, putting up a flock of 27 snow buntings. The buntings landed on a nearby gravel path, offering a great scope view. Three American pipits made a flyover as well.
- Anne Swaim

11/6 - Croton Point, HRM 35: As we pulled into a parking spot at dawn, a tan coyote trotted across the road and into a grassy field. It paused 50 yards away, in no hurry and not alarmed. As we turned toward the north-side beach, another coyote appeared, this one mostly gray. I had seen them before, several times over the past few years. Had we interrupted a romantic moment? I believe this to be the breeding pair on the Point. In any case, they were handsome specimens, with full, lustrous winter coats, and an assured behavior that declared them to be in charge of their territory.
- Christopher Letts, Gino Garner

11/6 - Bedford, HRM 35: An already sparse flight at casual-to-moderate height at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch seemed to shut down completely by the afternoon. Besides raptors, we counted two common ravens and 160 American robins. Current season totals of vultures: 1,988 turkey vultures, 39 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, Charles Bobelis

11/6 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: As we reached the bridge over Furnace Brook at Oscawana, we saw what we thought was our usual great blue heron with its neck and head buried under its wing, perched in a large tree that bent over the water. So it was a surprise to find another great blue heron, the bird we usually see, standing near the far shore in Ogilvie's Pond. As we watched, the bird walked along the shore with its long neck stuck out, hunting.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

11/6 - Manhattan, HRM 12.5: I found a cackling goose on the baseball fields in Inwood Hill Park today.
- James Knox

11/7 - Beacon, HRM 61: By the clock it was sunrise, but a steady rain and steely gray skies kept that moment obscured. We stretched our 85-foot-long seine out into the shallows, enjoying the fact that the breeze was light and the hauling easy. The catch was highlighted by a fish we rarely capture, a sixteen-inch-long adult white sucker. The puzzling presence of large young-of-the-year American shad 96-118 millimeters [mm] continued. The river was 51 degrees Fahrenheit and salinity was 1.7 parts per thousand [ppt].
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[White suckers (Catostomus commersoni) are native fishes that frequent the near-shore areas and tidal tributaries of the estuary. Each spring they ascend streams and creeks to spawn, often above the reach of the tide. Males develop breeding colors, a broad red streak on their sides. Until the last half of the twentieth century, there was a springtime cottage industry along the estuary of scap-netting and pickling white suckers. Tom Lake.]

11/7 - Bedford, HRM 35: Rain and poor visibility resulted in our first full count day cancellation of the season at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch.
- Arthur W. Green

11/7 - Manhattan, HRM 4: I found a dead woodcock on the sidewalk in front of our home this morning. It must have banged into something and, although our building is only four stories high, perhaps that's what it hit. I gave the woodcock, a lovely looking bird, to the American Museum of Natural History.
- Vicki Brown

[The American woodcock (Philohela minor) is taxonomically a shorebird, but it is found in upland habitats. According to data from New York City Audubon's Project Safe Flight, the woodcock made the top ten list of migrant species that fell victim to bright lights and glass in New York City in the period 1997-2011. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

11/8 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was not quite the flight we expected at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today. However, we had excellent species representation (nine species) for such a paltry total count of raptors - fifteen birds. Most commonly seen were red-shouldered hawks, numbering five. Other than raptors, we also counted four common ravens, two common loons, three eastern bluebirds, eighteen American robins, and 55 cedar waxwings. Current season totals of vultures: 1,991 turkey vultures, 39 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

11/08 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: At least 40 Canada geese were resting near shore in the Inwood Hill Park inlet, with another 20 farther out. There were also 40 mallards. Half an hour later they were all swimming toward the outlet to Spuyten Duyvil Creek, passing a single common merganser. A few flowers remained on common quickweed and black nightshade, and red clover had new blossoms - in November! Along the shore common evening-primrose had many blossoms as well. The woods were now full of color, with a few bright red sumacs the most striking.
- Thomas Shoesmith

11/9 - Bedford, HRM 35: A day that began rather modestly with overcast skies at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch revved up once skies began to finally clear. Unusual was a large kettle composed of 41 turkey vultures and fifteen black vultures that seemed to spring up out of nowhere to our southeast. Also unique today was not one but two juvenile golden eagles on entirely different flight-lines, meeting up and circling within a single scope view as a sub-adult male northern harrier passed over them. Also counted were two common ravens, 751 common grackles, 724 American robins, and 177 cedar waxwings. Current season totals of vultures: 2,024 turkey vultures, 59 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green, John Gluth

11/9 - New York Harbor, Lower Bay: Even after many years of cruising, Captain Carey Colwell had another first this morning. He was traveling from Rhode Island to Florida aboard his Island Packet SP Cruiser when, about a half-mile north of the Verrazano Bridge he encountered a well-antlered white-tailed deer headed from Brooklyn over to Staten Island. The deer was swimming very efficiently until he got about 150 feet in front of the boat and then promptly turned around and headed straight for his bow. Captain Colwell had to take evasive action.
- Captain Bruce Gregory

11/10 - Hudson River Valley: It was one month following our eleventh "Day in the Life of the River" event, held at 63 sites across a 200 mile-long reach of the watershed involving some 3,000 students and teachers. After considering the length and breadth of the day, two sixth graders from North Colonie in Albany County, Brian Cunningham and Ian Justino, composed a poem they called A Reflection of the Day.
- Rebecca Houser

It was a grey day on the Hudson River.
As we traveled into the brackish water, less and less fish and varieties of fish were found. Puzzling, very puzzling.
It drizzled softly and as the fog grew,
so did the waves as we drew nearer to the salty Atlantic.
We could taste the salt in the air, we were close.

11/10 - Dutchess County, HRM 68: Carena Pooth, Herb Thompson, and Eamon Freiburger spotted a female surf scoter at Sylvan Lake this afternoon. Per The Birds of Dutchess County, the surf scoter is a transient visitor - there are only eleven county records. Also seen were many ruddy ducks, some ring-necked ducks, and lesser scaup.
- Deb Tracy-Kral

[On October 30, 2012, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Curt McDermott counted ten surf scoters offshore from Cornwall-on-Hudson, Orange County (HRM 57). Tom Lake.]

11/10 - West Point, HRM 50: This afternoon I had a repeat performance of an occurrence from two weeks ago. While out archery hunting at West Point, I greeted a sow black bear and her three cubs. It was quite amazing and a bit scary at the same time. I felt very comfortable up in my tree stand until I saw that the cubs were also climbing trees and noticed that one of them was heading for mine. Mom was not too happy. They hung around me for ten minutes before leaving.
- Frank Maresco

11/10 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: We were watching our favorite great blue heron standing on its usual flat-topped tree on Ogilvie's Pond when a "gray blur" flew past - a belted kingfisher. It plunged into the middle of the pond, came up with a fish in its beak, and carried it to a branch near the great blue. The kingfisher shook its head, thrashing the fish around before its catch disappeared down its throat. The kingfisher then settled on the branch and began preening its feathers, its colors vibrant in the waning afternoon sunlight. Its white collar and blue band, along with the reddish-orange band marking it as a female, were very distinct on its white breast. The heron didn't budge all the while the action was taking place, standing like a statue on its branch the entire time.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

11/10 - Bedford, HRM 35: Migration seemed to be well-suppressed (only four raptors) at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today, with the coming of a cold front that would finally sweep through the area by mid-afternoon. Also counted were three common ravens. Current season totals of vultures: 2,025 turkey vultures, 60 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

11/10 - Croton-On-Hudson, HRM 34: While driving north this morning, we sighted a young white-tailed deer swimming across the Croton River.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

11/10 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I spotted a beautiful adult male peregrine falcon (tail-fanning) along the road just beyond the tent campground.
- Jeff Seneca

11/10 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The Point was productive this morning. In addition to lingering palm warblers (eastern and western), ruby- and golden-crowned kinglets, savannah, white throated, and song sparrows, and many eastern bluebirds, we had excellent looks on the landfill of a single Lapland longspur. It was cooperative enough for Charlie Roberto to get a photo. We saw a beautiful coyote loping on the landfill as well, and later we had an adult male peregrine falcon perched in sight for not less than 30 minutes.
- L. Trachtenberg

11/11 - North Germantown, HRM 109: I saw a red fox this morning. He was 50 feet from the house, trotting away across my yard just next to the tree line. The reddish color of his fur and the size of his tail were both striking in the early morning light. I fumbled for my camera and tried to get the telephoto in place, but he slipped into the woods well before the lens clicked onto the camera. This spring and summer we enjoyed a cottontail rabbit family that made its home somewhere in our yard, but for the last month or two they've been absent. I wonder if the fox is the reason?
- Kaare Christian

11/11 - Beacon, HRM 61: Our walk at Long Dock Park was notable for the number of woolly bear caterpillars we encountered. We dutifully measured each one, focusing on the brown band between the black end-bands. The consensus: The average brown bands were more than one-third of the average total lengths. The river was 53 degrees F and the salinity was 1.5 ppt.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Woolly bear caterpillars are the larval form of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella). According to unscientific tradition, the wider the middle brown section is, the milder the coming winter will be. Conversely, a narrow brown band may predict a cold and snowy winter. These caterpillars, perhaps advertising climate change, were predicting another relatively warm winter. Tom Lake.]

11/11 - Bedford, HRM 35: Not quite the flight we'd hoped for at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch today, although it is possible that things remain suppressed (only 22 raptors) in anticipation of precipitation this evening. Also counted were ten common ravens, three eastern bluebirds, one purple finch (heard only), 912 common grackles, 102 American robins, and 164 cedar waxwings. Current season totals of vultures: 2,035 turkey vultures, 60 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

11/11 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Charlie Roberto reported that the Lapland longspur (from yesterday) as well as an eastern meadowlark and many American pipits were seen on the landfill this morning.
- L. Trachtenberg

[As the name suggests, Lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) are Arctic tundra breeders. They are abundant on their nesting grounds and - in winter - on the Great Plains between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains. In the Hudson Valley, they are only occasionally seen in open grassland habitats during migration and in winter. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

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