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Hudson River Almanac December 21 - December 28, 2013

OVERVIEW

This was a week of winter ducks moving down river en masse. The snowy owl irruption was again a feature, albeit a sad one, as per Dave Taft's closing assessment below.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

12/24 - Brooklyn, New York City: I'm getting used to seeing snowy owls on Floyd Bennett Field's runways. I passed a nice female bird this morning, sitting in the middle of one of the open grasslands. With the snow melted and nothing but grass exposed, spotting her wasn't much of a challenge. I'm sure I'm reading into this, but she showed no signs of disturbance, almost as if she felt her camouflage was still working. This irruption year is nothing like any I've experienced in many years birding. I located four individual snowy owls on my best day to date (December 18). I've heard of individuals recording even more. Irruptions are quite natural, but one this enormous makes me wonder. Unfortunately, for all the joy it brings us, this is a one way trip for many of these immature birds.
- Dave Taft

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

12/21 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: It was ironic that at midday on the winter solstice the air temperature was near 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The once frozen-over tidal Wappinger Creek was nearly ice-free and repopulated with scores of common and hooded mergansers and Canada geese.
- Tom Lake

12/21 - Millbrook, HRM 82: The warm weather had melted snow in the fields just enough to make translucent the tunnels of the meadow voles, providing an opportunity to follow their comings and goings. I even saw one peeking at me where a tunnel opened at a melted footprint.
- Nelson D. Johnson

12/21 - Town of Beekman, HRM 68: Sylvan Lake continued to teem with ducks. From the DEC boat launch this afternoon I counted 260 ring-necked ducks, 40 hooded mergansers, a pair of lesser scaup, 40 ruddy ducks, three canvasbacks, and an adult male redhead duck (right next to the canvasbacks for comparison), plus a horned grebe.
- Carena Pooth

[The redhead duck is not seen in Dutchess County every year. They can arrive as early as the end of November but are more likely from mid-February to mid-March, either singly or in groups of up to four. Stragglers may be found in April. Redheads are more often found on inland ponds than on the Hudson River. Stan DeOrsey, Barbara Butler.]

12/21 - Cornwall-on-Hudson, HRM 57: During the course of my daily five mile walk up Deer Hill Road and surrounding areas, I was surprised to encounter a flock of 15-20 American robins. As a boy growing up in Wisconsin, I vividly recall my mother gleefully announcing the "first robins of spring." Were these robins I encountered on the winter solstice the last robins of autumn, or ...?
- Robert Anderson

[It seems that in the last 50 years or so, with generally moderating winters, some robins have tended to stick around, especially in heavily wooded areas. Even so, we are seeing migrating robins from the north as "our" summer birds have migrated south. Tom Lake.]

12/21 - Town of Warwick, HRM 44: We traveled to the Black Dirt region of Orange County today. The highlight was the dozen rough-legged hawks we counted along Route 94, nine of which were light-phased, along with five kestrels, three harriers, and many horned larks.
- Larry Trachtenberg, Charlie Roberto, Kyle Bardwell

12/21 - Peekskill, HRM 43.5: At Annsville Creek Bay this morning, I spotted an adult bald eagle perched in a tree preening. It was my first of the season.
- Phil Picciano

12/21 - Peekskill, HRM 43: China Pier has always been one of my favorite places to see eagles, with the Hudson Highlands and the Bear Mountain Bridge in sight, and a ten-mile fetch to enjoy. Double-crested and great cormorants had claimed the rocks at the base of the navigational tower in Peekskill Bay. At the riverside on the north face of Indian Point, a mile downriver, three adult bald eagles were perched high in the canopy of hardwood trees, likely the first of the wintering birds to arrive.
- Christopher Letts

12/21 - Croton-on-Hudson, HR 34: I thought that with snow and colder weather, gray squirrels would hole up in trees with their vast stores of acorns. But they have been as active as ever. With snow on the ground, they are climbing the bushes for feed. The bushes around my house are always busy places with birds fluttering in and out. But now, the branches sway, jiggle, bob and bend with squirrels nibbling while hanging on for dear life.
- Robin Fox

12/21 - Ossining, HRM 33: As we sped past Ossining on the Metro North commuter train, I spotted a large black bird in a tree. I took it for a crow, but its wings were "not right" and the shoulders looked like a vulture's. I even thought to myself, "That crow looks like he is in mourning with his head down and shoulders up." Then it came to me that this was a black vulture.
- Glen Heinsohn

12/21 - Manhattan, New York City: The air temperature reached 65 degrees Fahrenheit today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

12/21 - Staten Island, New York City: We set out this morning in an attempt to find a glaucous gull for Isaac's New York City "Big Year." We have been observing tens of thousands of gulls over Raritan Bay over the past week, and we were convinced that it would be worth looking through them for rarities. In the morning we had two lesser black-backed gulls, and Iceland gull, and a red-necked grebe. Later, at Tottenville, we noticed a large, all-white gull sitting on a rock. Sure enough, it was a first-year glaucous gull.
- Mike Shanley, Isaac Grant

[A "Big Year" is a competition among birders to see who can see (or identify by song or call) the greatest number of bird species within a specific geographical area across a single calendar year. Tom Lake.]

12/22 - Knox, Albany County, HRM 145: Warm weather made quick work of melting our snowpack that measured more than a foot deep only a couple of days ago. The temperature reached 65 degrees F today. Several honeybees were about.
- Dave Nelson

12/22 - Town of Beekman, HRM 67: There were a pair of redhead ducks, seventeen lesser scaup, two American wigeons, and some ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers on Greenhaven Road Lake.
- Deb Kral

12/22 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 67.5: The air temperature reached 68 degrees Fahrenheit today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

12/22 - Furnace Wood, HRM 38.5: Brown creepers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers were the continuing stars at my feeders. The half-dozen red-winged blackbirds drawn here by the heavy snow a week ago were long gone now.
- Christopher Letts

12/22 - Manhattan, New York City: HRM 5: The air temperature reached 71 degrees Fahrenheit today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

[To the north, at Albany (river mile 145), the high temperature was only 54; 200 miles north at Glens Falls (river mile 208), the high temperature was only 33. National Weather Service.]

12/22 - Manhattan, HRM 2: With air temperature in the 60s this morning, I entered Hudson River Park and spotted a line of birds flying upriver over the water. Through my binoculars I saw that these were more than a dozen Canada geese traveling north! Later, as I was leaving the park, I heard geese honking and saw a second skein of about twice as many geese again heading north.
- Walter Laufer

[That is not unusual. On this day we had a south-southwest wind. Usually, migrating birds do not tend to buck the flow and will rather "quarter" the breeze, even move obliquely to their intended flight path, like a sailboat tacking on the river. Tom Lake.]

12/22 - Brooklyn, New York City: It was unseasonably warm in downtown Brooklyn as I watched a gray bird of prey maneuver in the windy, pigeon-free skies over Brooklyn Borough Hall. With angular wings it flew north over Columbus Park, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and - after two attempts - landed on louvers of an office building across from Cadman Plaza Post Office. All area pigeons took to the skies, immediately acknowledging the presence of the peregrine falcon.
- David Diehl

12/23 - Bronx-Westchester County: This was our 90th Christmas Bird Count and the tally was more than 55,000 birds of 120 species. Highlights included a semipalmated plover in Pelham Bay Park and a female king eider off Scotch Capp Island in Rye. It was the first king eider on the count since 1956. Seven red-headed woodpeckers set a new high count (six were in Pelham Bay Park, the other in Woodlawn). Other finds included two Eurasian wigeons, one in Turtle Cove, Bronx, and the other at Marshland Conservancy. A single razorbill and a lesser black-backed gull were counted in Rye.
- Michael C. Bochnik

12/24 - Watervliet,, HRM 154: We were coming back to Watervliet from Albany when we saw two adult bald eagles on the same branch within a foot of each other, looking down at the Hudson River. I have seen one eagle in this same tree many times over the last few years but this is the first time there were two.
- Jim Bulmer, Christian Bulmer

[There is a bald eagle nest with a few minutes' eagle flight of this location. The behavior is typical of winter courtship, when the mated pair gets back together to renew their breeding rituals after a late summer-fall hiatus. Tom Lake.]

12/25 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: I spotted an immature bald eagle sitting on the shelf of inshore ice near the mouth of Wappinger Creek.
- Jay Meyer

12/25 - Monroe, Orange County, HRM 46: With Round Lake starting to freeze again, two adult bald eagles were dive-bombing the one small open water area early this morning. Thinking they were diving for fish, I checked with binoculars. They were after five ring-necked ducks that were also diving to stay alive. The eagles eventually flew away and the five ducks moved closer to the shore.
- Debbie Korwan, Lyn Nelson

12/26 - Town of Clermont, HRM 103: Thanks to a heads-up from Jon and Elisa Shaw, we got to see a snowy owl in Nevis. I had a feeling I would see one today and had spent time this morning checking the local fields around Millbrook and Stanfordville. This snowy had quite a rough afternoon of almost constant harassment, not by photographers this time but by crows; a curious horse; a red-tailed hawk; and - when it landed in a cornfield - more crows. It looked quite calm in the location where it finally settled, on a decrepit shed behind a barn.
- Deb Kral, Barbara Mansel, Ray Mansel

12/26 - Crugers, HRM 39: There was a layer of snow on ice on Ogilvie's Pond. Basking in the afternoon sun, atop its usual tree overlooking the water, was the great blue heron. It stood still on the treetop for a while before flying onto the ice and stealthily walking around in circles, reminding us of an ice skater. As it "skated" around, a beautiful Cooper's hawk flew in and landed in a tree on the opposite side of the pond, where it stayed a while before flying off. Finally, the heron walked into a tiny area of open water and grabbed a fish. When we left, the great blue was standing in the water, its legs completely submerged.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

12/27 - Crugers, HRM 39: We visited Ogilvie's Pond again today; the great blue heron was continuing its antics on the ice. It walked back and forth across the pond, stopping occasionally to stick its long beak up into the air. When we left, it was hunkered down near the trunk of a very large tree close to the water.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

12/27 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: It was our first bald eagle sighting of the season! This afternoon we scanned the high trees at Oscawana Point and nearly missed seeing the beautiful "almost adult" bald eagle perched atop a branch. Its coloring blended in with the dark branches, making it difficult to spot.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

12/28 - Putnam County: This was our 59th annual Christmas Bird Count. Among the highlights were a golden eagle (Hudson River at Breakneck Ridge), drake northern pintail (Boyd's Corners Reservoir), northern shrike (Glynwood Farm), northern goshawk and peregrine falcon (Fahnestock State Park), rough-legged hawk (flying over Kent), two hybrid white-throated sparrow x dark-eyed juncos, more than 3,000 common mergansers (Middle Branch and Croton Falls reservoirs), and more than 1,100 ring-necked ducks (Lake Mahopac).
- Larry Trachtenberg

12/28 - Westchester County, HRM 45: I spotted a male robin sitting on a winterberry bush off Route 6. I was getting ready to hike towards Anthony's Nose overlooking the Bear Mountain Bridge with a friend, and took a few pictures. I think that the robin would be better off a little farther south where it is warmer and there may be more food.
- Jim Steck

12/28 - Staten Island, New York City: I spotted a very cooperative yellow-breasted chat feeding in high bush honeysuckle and Asian bittersweet on Wagner College property.
- Howard Fischer

[The yellow-breasted chat, a wood warbler, is listed as rare in winter at nearby Sandy Hook and Liberty State Park, and only as an occasional visitor in autumn. Tom Lake.]

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