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Hudson River Almanac November 27 - December 4, 2013

OVERVIEW

The snowy owl irruption continued this week and is now fairly widespread over the Northeast and into the Midwest. While they may appear healthy when seen in the field, many if not most of these owls are on the brink of starvation, running extremely low on energy resources, and needing to conserve what they have.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

11/29 - Dutchess County, HRM 85: I spotted a greater white-fronted goose this morning in a pond on Lavelle Road in Amenia.
- Adrienne Popko, Eamon Frieburger

[The greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) is a winter transient in our area. In Dutchess County, it is most often found singly within a flock of Canada geese on various ponds in the central and eastern portions of the county. The first sighting in Dutchess County, among about a dozen since then, occurred April 10, 1977. Ornithologist E.H. Forbush reports that the white-fronted goose was formerly an uncommon spring and fall migrant that decreased in numbers from 1845 to 1880. Observations in New York State have increased since 1975. Two populations of the white-fronted goose, each representing a different subspecies, may be the source of those seen. One in Greenland normally migrates to the British Isles; the other in north-central Canada normally winters near the Texas coast. Both subspecies have been seen in New York. Stan DeOrsey, Barbara Butler.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

11/27 - Wappinger Lake, HRM 67.5: In the aftermath of nearly two inches of rain (1.85") the woods were soggy and the lake looked a bit higher. The hooded mergansers and male common mergansers never looked brighter as they foraged in the shallows. A pair of ruddy ducks had slipped in overnight and was maintaining its "space" from all the other waterfowl.
- Tom Lake

11/27 - Brooklyn, New York City: A snowy owl was spotted at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. [Several other snowy owls, in various states of health, were reported from eastern Long Island westward to Sandy Hook, New Jersey.]
- Doug Gochfeld

11/28 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We went for a walk after dark Thanksgiving night and heard at least two large flocks of Canada geese flying high overhead. Clear skies and cool temperatures must have made for a good night migration.
- Charlotte Demers

11/28 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: I was driving along the north shore of the Mohawk River this afternoon when I was surprised to see two sandhill cranes roosting in a backwater very close to the road - only about 50 feet away. I did a quick Internet search and apparently a pair (same pair?) was seen in this same place back in January.
- Michael Gochfeld

11/28 - North Germantown, HRM 109. An adult bald eagle perched in a hardwood tree right outside our window and joined us for Thanksgiving dinner. He was a bit early so he brought his own meal [digital image revealed a very large white perch]. After his dinner, he hung out for a while to enjoy our company.
- Kaare Christian

11/28 - Millbrook, HRM 82: It has been a banner year for bald-faced hornets. I have not noticed them in my fields before, but this year there were gray, basketball-sized hornet's nests dangling from twigs about twelve feet off of the ground along the borders of four of my fields, one nest per field. This morning just after dawn, my Great Pyrenees and I went into the fields for our morning walk and I noticed that something had removed large pieces of the some of the nests. When I came over to investigate, a downy woodpecker flew out of the nest. I wondered whether it was feeding on dead hornets, or hoping to find a live one.
- Nelson D. Johnson

[The hornet colony, including the queen, dies off around the time of the first hard frost. Females born in fall mate and then overwinter in tree stumps, hollow trees, rock piles, under bark, and in buildings. Other insects and spiders sometimes seek shelter in hornet nests when winter arrives. Steve Stanne.]

11/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It was a chilly but windless night for a much needed post-Thanksgiving walk. The woods and fields were quiet and we were able to hear two distinct flocks of high-flyer Canada geese going over. Their predilection for night-flying has always been one of their most endearing attributes.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

11/28 - Bedford, HRM 35: Not surprisingly, "turkey" vultures were the order of the day on Thanksgiving at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch! There was a casual flight with the bulk of the day's migrants sneaking out far to our south. Also counted were two common ravens and 183 Canada geese. Current season totals of vultures: 2,402 turkey vultures, 71 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

11/28 - Manhattan, HRM 6: I spotted a female common merganser at the Central Park Reservoir. The females of both red-breasted mergansers and common mergansers are quite similar. We get both species usually for short and infrequent visits. The light late this afternoon was stunning.
- Pat Pollock

11/28 - Manhattan, HRM 1: In late afternoon at the Nelson Rockefeller State Park, near the north end of Battery Park, we counted 21 brant foraging on the north lawn. When we passed again half an hour later the number had doubled.
- Thomas Shoesmith, Donna Mendell

11/29 - Milan, HRM 90: While I was hunting from a tree stand in the town of Milan, an adult red-tailed hawk flew into a tree a few yards from mine. At the same time a gray squirrel I was watching quickly darted to the opposite side of the tree and froze motionless for a few minutes until the hawk departed. Good move for the squirrel in a bit of deep woods drama.
- J.F. Larsen

11/29 - Dutchess County, HRM 86: I spotted a Townsend's solitaire just down the street from the Hopeland parking lot this morning in Staatsburg. I had it for about a minute but then the traffic scared it back into the woods and I was unable to relocate the bird in an hour of trying.
- Jim Clinton

[Townsend's solitaire, a thrush, is common in the American West and only a casual visitor to the Northeast. There have only been a handful of sightings in Dutchess County, the most recent of which was January 1995. Tom Lake.]

11/29 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: Mulching leaves this afternoon was creating far too much noise for me to hear calls from the sky overhead, but - luckily - I took a break in time to catch three large high-flyer Vs of geese passing over, two of which were snow geese.
- Tom Lake

11/29 - Orange County, HRM 60: We were returning to our truck, parked in one of our fields on top of the Shawangunks in Otisville, when we noticed a snowy owl sitting on a rock wall less than a hundred feet from us. What an awesome animal. We sat and watched for twenty minutes as the bird scoped the area. Its body was white with black barring, but its face was solid white except for those intense eyes and what we could see of its beak. As it rotated its head around, it made quite a contrast. Then it ruffled its feathers, spread its wings, and flew across an open field to another high spot.
- Frank Ketcham, Kyle Ketcham

[This area is at the watershed dividing line between the Hudson and the Delaware, so arguably could be outside of our purview. However, it is close, and is included as additional documentation of the extraordinary autumn irruption of snowy owls. Tom Lake.]
11/29 - Village of Montgomery, HRM 62: My wife and I stepped outside at 1:00 a.m. this morning and had a flock of snow geese fly over the house, notable by their call.
- Curt McDermott, Clara McDermott

11/29 - Bedford, HRM 35: There was a rather small and short-lived flight at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch, spanning all of about three hours before shutting down completely. Almost without exception, migrants exited south of the watch platform except for one exceptionally high adult Cooper's hawk above the surrounding landscape. Also counted were two common ravens, three eastern bluebirds, 419 Canada geese, and 78 brant. Current season totals of vultures: 2,411 turkey vultures, 71 black vultures.
- Arthur W. Green

11/29 - Manhattan, HRM 6: In addition to a female common merganser, a ring-necked duck was present this morning on the Central Park Reservoir. I also counted ten hooded mergansers, five American coot, four buffleheads and four pied-billed grebes. There was a beautiful male Baltimore oriole at the feeders, as well as a Carolina wren, white-breasted nuthatch, and fox sparrow.
- Pat Pollock

11/30 - Orange County, HRM 45: We hit the Pine Island-Goshen area for open-country birds this morning, from Pumpkin Swamp, Indiana Road, Mount Eve Road, Skinner's Lane, Sidoti Lane, Jados Lane, Glenwood Road, to Oil City Road. Our sightings included fifteen northern harriers (three of them "gray ghosts"), five rough-legged hawks, a short-eared owl (hunting before daybreak), three American kestrels, 30-plus horned larks, and 600 snow buntings.
- Mike Britt, Mark French

[The male northern harrier, or marsh hawk, pale with black wing tips, is a light-colored raptor that some birders refer to as the "gray ghost." Tom Lake.]

11/30 - Bedford, HRM 35: It's striking how red-shouldered hawks remain in our Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch pipeline so late into the season - they almost kept pace with the turkey vultures today. Noteworthy was a flock of four adults in mid-afternoon. Most birds exited just south of the watch platform, gaining surprising height after midday despite thickening cloud cover. Also counted were 65 American robins and 105 Canada geese. Current season totals of vultures: 2,429 turkey vultures, 72 black vultures. The season count for red-shouldered hawks was at 429.
- Arthur W. Green

11/30 - Croton Point, HRM 35: There was an adult male red-headed woodpecker showing well in the oaks by the model airplane field area.
- Larry Trachtenberg

12/1 - Schenectady, HRM 157: We had our first sighting of a pair of Carolina wrens today on our suet feeders.
- Dot Knutsen, Bill Knutsen

12/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The red-headed woodpecker was still showing well at Croton Point this morning. Up on the landfill, I found at least five pipits; one each snow bunting and eastern meadowlark; and four savannah sparrows. Over the landfill were a harrier, an immature bald eagle, and a skein of mre than 45 common mergansers flying past. Later I watched a red-tailed hawk catch and eat a gray squirrel.
- Larry Trachtenberg

12/1 - Bedford, HRM 35: On our final count of the year, we had an unusual flight day at the Chestnut Ridge hawkwatch that began with a shot of red-shouldered hawks from mid-to-late morning. If migrants were not in reasonable proximity of the platform, they tended to exit very far to our south. They had a very casual flight altitude, not surprising given the pervasive cloud cover. Also counted were 76 American robins and one common raven. The season's count for red-shouldered hawks was 499.
- Arthur W. Green, Chet Friedman

12/2 - Minerva, HRM 284: The blue jays were out calling this morning when I walked down to the ponded area way behind the house, tromping through about an inch of snow. We have not had much snow but have had much cold. The cold is good; it gives us an opportunity to walk on the pond with its four to five inches of excellent ice. On the way, I spotted red squirrel tracks in the snow between two trees. It is nice to know that we've got some squirrels; there seemed to be few of them this summer.
- Mike Corey

12/2 - Chelsea to Beacon, HRM 65-61: Spaced across a four-mile reach this morning, there were five flocks of Canada geese hugging the shoreline, each with more than 100 birds.
- Tom Lake

12/2 - Newburgh, HRM 61: I scanned the river and was extremely pleased to find a red-throated loon in the air - flying south, its bill tipped and pointing to the water below.
- Ken McDermott

12/2 - Kowawese, HRM 60: The vociferous mobbing of crows made me halt in my tracks - I was under the tree they were mobbing. I slowly backed up to get a better view and then I saw it. Perched at the top of the tree was a snowy owl. This was a hatch-year bird with very heavy and dark markings. I'd like to think that it was the harassing of the crows and not my unintentional intrusion that made it pitch off and fly erratically across the river to land in Dutchess County south of Beacon.
- Ken McDermott

12/2 - Hammond Point, HRM 60: The tall hardwood trees along this point at the mouth of Fishkill Creek are a winter favorite for bald eagles. When they are found nowhere else, it seems they will be here. This morning an adult and an immature were spaced about 100 yards apart, waiting for the tide to drop and for shallow-water hunting opportunities to develop.
- Tom Lake

12/2 - Cornwall-on-Hudson, HRM 58: I counted five great cormorants, one immature and four adults, on a channel marker near Cornwall Landing.
- Ken McDermott

12/2 - Fish Island, Westchester County, HRM 44.5: One of the annoying realities of taking the Metro North commuter train to Manhattan is that you too often see only snippets of what might be a compelling drama being played out on the river. You get a five-second glance, a brief opportunity to compute and interpret, and then it is gone. In my brief glimpse today - closer to ten seconds as the train slowed for a curve - I watched a dozen or more ring-billed gulls frenetically dip and dive over a small disturbed patch of water complete with dimples and tiny splashes. Striped bass chasing herring? Wind, tide, and current creating a disturbance that had tricked the gulls (not uncommon)? It was a story left in suspense.
- Tom Lake

12/2 - Oscawana Point, HRM 38.5: This peninsula at the mouth of Furnace Brook is one of many along the river that is favored by wintering bald eagles. If affords them protection from the frigid west-northwest wind and gives them exposure to the winter sun throughout the day. Two adult bald eagles were enjoying that scenario this morning, perhaps in a vanguard of winter visitors.
- Tom Lake

12/3 - Ulster County, HRM 77: I watched a pair or ravens do pirouettes and do-see-dos across the face of Blue Point this morning. The more I see these magnificent black birds, the more they seem to authenticate the vestiges of wildness we still see in the Hudson Valley.
- Tom Lake

12/3 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: An adult male yellow-bellied sapsucker was behaving in a very un-sapsucker-like manner this morning. It was making many short hovering flights suggestive of a flycatcher. Our two large, ancient taxus (spreading yew) bushes had produced a bumper crop of succulent, crimson fruit, and the woodpecker was harvesting them.
- Christopher Letts

12/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68.5: Bluebirds. The bleakest winter day is warmed by these beautiful songbirds. While they are mostly silent now, they brightened up the leafless shrubbery along the lowland hiking trails at Bowdoin Park. I was looking for wood ducks that are sometimes found in the tidal backwaters behind the railroad tracks. None were there today - the tide was too high for these dabblers - but the bluebirds filled the void.
- Tom Lake

12/4 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It was so out of place that I had to look twice - a hairy woodpecker hanging on the side of one of our thistle feeders. With suet feeders (their favorite) not more than 50 feet away, this relatively large woodpecker had chosen to roust the goldfinches and chickadees away for the tiny niger seed. At the same time there were loud echoes in the woods as a pair of pileated woodpeckers hammered away.
- Tom Lake

12/4 - Hudson Valley: The Waterman Bird Club advises that we take time to carefully study the birds at our feeders this winter. Two Oregon juncos, a western subspecies of the dark-eyed junco, have been seen in the Hudson Valley in the last couple of weeks.
- Tom Lake

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