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Hudson River Almanac January 12 - January 18, 2014

OVERVIEW

A brief spell of warmer weather and the curiosity of knowledgeable naturalists led to sightings of - yes - eagles, owls, and gulls, but also to observations of active frogs and salamanders.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/17 - Newcomb, HRM 302: There was a beautiful full moon last night with clear skies. I peeked out the window sometime after midnight and had a great view of two gray foxes that were scavenging the remains of the bird seed under the feeder. The gray fox breeding season is from late January into March and they do form monogamous pair bonds. Hope to see some kits come spring. During the day, it continues to be the year of the American goldfinch at the feeder with easily over 150 birds.
- Charlotte Demers

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/12 - Albany, HRM 145: A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to ride on the New York State Marine Highway Transportation tug Frances, while docking a ship at the Port of Albany. Tug operators and river pilots are engaged, daily observers of eagles, osprey, and other wildlife; they radio each other up and down the river, calling out their sightings. The river was iced over in front of the port, with layers of skim ice and areas where it was six inches thick. Tug engineer Rob Goldman told me that whenever they tug out to break up the ice in front of the turning basin, as we did that morning, the eagles fly in toward the open water. Wouldn't you know it, right on cue when we were docking the tug, two adult bald eagles flew in, landed on a tree opposite the port and waited for the activity on the water to settle down for a chance to fish.
- John Loz

1/12 - Cohoes, HRM 157: I checked the pools in the Mohawk below the falls and the long-tailed duck previously reported was still there, along with a few common mergansers; mallards; and black ducks.
- John Kent

1/12 - Troy, HRM 152: I had checked the Troy end of the 112th Street Bridge yesterday and had seen common goldeneyes and two greater scaup. I checked it again today and found an ice jam there, with no open water. Not far away I found a horned grebe in with a flock of common goldeneyes. It seemed to be spending about 99 percent of its time under water.
- John Kent

1/12 - Albany County, HRM 144: The air temperature was 39 degrees Fahrenheit and much of the snow had melted, so I decided to check out a spring seep at the base of the Helderberg Escarpment below Thacher State Park. I carefully lifted rocks for about twenty minutes and found one green frog, three northern dusky salamanders, one larval spring salamander, and sixteen pickerel frogs. The salamanders were very active and several got away before I could identify them. (I think they were two-lined salamander larvae but I can't be sure. I should have taken a dip net with me.) The headwater stream salamanders, which is what we find in these seeps, stay active all winter and even feed a bit. The frogs wanted to be left alone! They all stayed under their rocks. The flowing water keeps them from freezing.
- Alvin Breisch

[The Helderberg Escarpment is a geologic formation about 1,100 feet high, approximately ten miles west of Albany (see John Boyd Thacher State Park). The escarpment is formed by a series of sedimentary rock layers from sandstone to limestone to chert - remnants of the deep past of the Hudson Valley more than 400 million years ago when this part of the northeast was a shallow salt sea. Tom Lake.]

1/12 - Nutten Hook, HRM 124: The river was high in mid-afternoon with much moving broken ice, and the area was under a flood watch. I spotted one adult bald eagle as well as four tree sparrows.
- Nancy Kern

1/12 - Ancram, HRM 102: While hiking with a friend around New Forge State Forest, we had two adult golden eagles, separated by a few hundred feet from each other (one passing overhead, then the other) soaring tree-top high directly over us for a couple of minutes before making their way south and out of view. These golden eagles were my second and third over the past five years in Columbia County. The only other species of note was a pair of ravens croaking in the distance.
- Chad Witko

1/12 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We were looking out the back window at our frozen pond this morning as a dark animal ran across it. It was a mink, and it stopped for fifteen minutes - letting us go out to get some great pictures. It then dropped into a hole about three feet from the pond edge. No tracks since, so maybe it was passing through. [Photo of mink by Allan Bowdery.]
- Allan Bowdery

1/12 - Gardiner, HRM 73: Winter wildlife: We spotted a lone red fox as it ran through our yard a couple of weeks ago; this morning, a very healthy-looking pair meandered through the woods at the edge of our yard, across the stone wall, and towards a teeny stream. We have also had a Carolina wren staying all winter. It visits our feeders every so often as well as, for the very first time, a bluebird.
- Betty Enos

1/12 - Storm King, HRM 56: Yesterday and today we walked on Route 218 (closed in the winter) that skirts Storm King Mountain. Looking for birds, we spotted a number of adult and juvenile bald eagles, including some on the ice and some playing in the air. Over Storm King we photographed at least one that may have been a golden eagle.
- Jonathan Deull

[Jonathan's digital images revealed an adult golden eagle soaring over Storm King. Tom Lake.]

1/12 - China Pier to Senasqua, HRM 44-36: We counted eighteen bald eagles out on the ice at Peekskill Bay! Earlier we had seen four at Oscawana Point and five more out on the river. On our way home we stopped at Senasqua and counted another sixteen eagles out on the ice. We saw more of them way out but couldn't absolutely identify them. We finished with at least 45 eagles - all in all, an amazing day.
- Abbye Carsten, Bevin Carsten

1/12 - Charles Point to Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 43-34: We spent the day traveling these nine miles, looking for eagles. There were a few on the ice off in the distance as well as several immatures overhead at Charles Point. Several more could be seen at a distance from Verplanck. The best looks were at Croton Point and Senasqua Park where at least five eagles were riding ice foes on the ebb tide. There was also a large group of adults and immatures in between those points, and one immature, chasing crows, had an orange band.
- Linda Trummer-Napolitano

[We may never know the origin of this bird's orange leg band. Both New Jersey and Quebec are using orange leg bands and Massachusetts is now using a "burnt orange" band. Pete Nye.]

1/12 - Croton Bay, HRM 35: We counted 27 eagles on the edge of the ice early this morning. It was wild, like Alaska! With the river opened up from a little warmer weather and rain, the strong west winds may have blown or pushed dead fish, waterfowl, carcasses and other carrion into the ice edge out in the bay - hence the eagles.
- Larry Trachtenberg, Christopher Letts

1/13 - South Glens Falls, HRM 207: While walking along the Hudson River I came upon two bivalve shells in the icy-cold water near the bridge to the Glens Falls Civic Center. I had never seen them before.
- Pete Lochmann

[Your shells were from a bivalve clam called the eastern floater (Pyganodon cataracta), a common native species of quiet waters. Dave Strayer, Senior Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.]

1/13 - Cohoes, HRM 157: My attention turned to gulls, of which there were hundreds. At the Crescent Power Station there were about 300 herring gulls, 100 great black-backed gulls, and four Iceland gulls. A third-year immature bald eagle flew through several times and put all the gulls up.
- Will Raup

pickerel frog1/13 - Albany County, HRM 144: Given the success of Al Breisch's brief survey of the spring seeps below the Helderberg Escarpment yesterday, we decided to revisit the area today, this time armed with dip nets. After about an hour, we came up with nine northern dusky salamanders; five northern two-lined salamanders; five northern spring salamanders (four larval, one adult); three green frogs; and an impressive 27 pickerel frogs! The frogs were moderately active, some more lethargic than others, but the salamanders were remarkably active considering the time of year. For the record, the air temperature was a little warmer (44 degrees F) than during yesterday's search (39 degrees), and the snow and ice cover, while still present, was substantially reduced from the previous week. [Photo of pickerel frog by Mark Fitzsimmons.]
- Mark Fitzsimmons, Alvin Breisch

1/13 - Town of Stuyvesant, HRM 127: Among the birds seen today were 200 Canada geese, 46 wild turkeys, and an American kestrel.
- Nancy Kern

1/13 - Bronx, HRM 15: I led a morning walk at Wave Hill today for New York City Audubon. It was a pretty good day for raptors: an adult bald eagle soaring repeatedly over the grounds; an adult peregrine falcon soaring and stooping; a merlin briefly strafing the peregrine; and an immature red-tailed hawk. Other highlights included a large flock of cedar waxwings and a single yellow-rumped warbler.
- Gabriel Willow

1/14 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Charlie Roberto first spotted the long-eared owl two days ago on a walk, and I was able to relocate the bird yesterday and again today. We waited to post the sighting to give the owl an opportunity to settle in on the landfill.
- Larry Trachtenberg

1/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I counted ten snow buntings at the Newcomb golf course. A female common raven was giving the knocking call (my favorite vocalization by this species) along Route 28N just before the Newcomb-Minerva town line. She finally flew off and continued to give the knocking call as she flew.
- Joan Collins

1/15 - Minerva, HRM 284: I found red crossbills in three different locations in Minerva this morning. They were singing, calling, gritting, and preening, and the males acted a bit aggressively towards one another. Most of the birds appeared to be paired, but they joined together in a larger group for gritting. I watched two males and a female gritting. The female stayed close to one of the males and kept moving away from the other male. While I was observing the red crossbills, a black-backed woodpecker rattle-called behind me. I ignored it to keep watching the crossbills. Two pileated woodpeckers called, drummed, and flew around also. I hiked part of the Roosevelt Truck Trail and found at least eight boreal chickadees.
- Joan Collins

[Two years ago, red crossbills and white-winged crossbills nested in a corridor from Minerva, Newcomb, Long Lake, and Raquette Lake to Inlet. It appears they may be nesting in the same areas once again. I will visit many of the prior nesting locations in the next week or two. Joan Collins.]

1/15 - Crescent, HRM 159: Jocelyn Cole called to report that late today she spotted two sandhill cranes flying west along the Mohawk River as she was crossing the Route 9 Bridge at Crescent. So, they're still around.
- Rich Guthrie

1/15 - Albany, HRM 145: One snowy owl, a darker juvenile, was still at the Albany International Airport today.
- Marne Onderdonk

1/15 - Delmar, HRM 145: A white-faced and white-winged American robin was reported at the Five Rivers Scion Orchard this morning.
- Louis Suarato

1/15 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I watched five common mergansers fly in from the river this morning, and out on the end of Esopus Island was an adult bald eagle.
- Patricia Joel

1/15 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: In midday I counted four bald eagles on ice floes in the river just outside the mouth of Wappinger Creek. They very occasionally chased one another. Gulls were finishing the remnants of the eagle's fish dishes. I came up with three others in the Wappinger watershed later, for a total of seven for the day.
- Jay Meyer

1/16 - Saratoga County, HRM 214: I spotted two adult bald eagles and one immature perched on a mud pond in Moreau State Park, watching over a deer carcass. Less than a week earlier there had been a pair of adults on the pond as well.
- Gary Hill

1/16 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: While doing the Fort Edward raptor survey we saw one snowy owl, one or two short-eared owls, a dark phase rough-legged hawk, and a northern harrier.
- Steve Mesick

snowy owl1/16 - Little Falls, HRM 159: Along the Mohawk at Little Falls, I saw what I believed was an adult female snowy owl. Snowy owls that arrive here usually seem to show up out in the farmlands north of Little Falls, perched on either fence posts or utility poles, and are close to the roads at times. [Photo of snowy owl by Ken Sanders.]
- Ken Harper

1/16 - Albany, HRM 145: I saw three snowy owls at Albany International Airport. The one that I got the best looks at was a female. The other two - more distant from my vantage point - appeared to be males who were in conflict for territory; they flew at each other and collided in mid-air then returned to their perches. There was also a female northern harrier that dove down at the female snowy owl during one pass.
- Curt Morgan

1/16 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: While participating in the NYS DEC winter raptor survey this evening, I saw a short-eared owl on Flint Mine Road. It came out a few minutes after 5:00 p.m.
- John Kent

1/16 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Near midday, the river was a jumbled "moonscape" of ice moving quickly upriver on the flood tide. Not far offshore, a pair of adult bald eagles was sharing an upended floe. In addition to a hundred mallards, we estimated two hundred gulls along the waterfront, and among them was an immature Iceland gull (previously reported by the McDermotts). As far as we could tell, all the rest were ring-billed.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[To conserve energy, bald eagles ride the river's ice floes much like we use moving sidewalks at airports. They save calories and are able to consider dining options such as unsuspecting waterfowl. Tom Lake.]

1/16 - Lower Hudson Estuary, HRM 56-12: This was our eleventh annual Lower Hudson Bald Eagle Roost Survey (census) conducted at dusk on January 12. Thirteen observers counted 198 birds at known night roosts in the lower Hudson Valley between the Hudson Highlands and the New Jersey border.
- Ed McGowan

[Last winter, with somewhat warmer weather that may have scattered the birds, only 47 eagles were counted at eight sites. Tom Lake.]

1/17 - Crescent, HRM 159: Late this afternoon I found well over 1,000 gulls on the Mohawk River just east of the Crescent (Route 9) Bridge. Among them were a lesser black-backed gull, six Iceland gulls, and two glaucous gulls. They flushed about halfway through my count, so there could have been more.
- John Hershey

1/17 - Coeymans, HRM 133.5: We were out doing some winter fern surveys at Deer Mountain in Coeymans today and came upon a small pond in which we saw five or six adult red-spotted newts swimming/floating near the surface, taking in the top few inches of sun-warmed water. We have both commented recently that there is a lot to be learned about amphibian behavior and activity patterns in winter that flies in the face of the simple assumption that amphibians hibernate. We have found amphibians active in all twelve months of the year, but even so, we did not think we would find the degree of activity that we have seen recently. It is surprising what one might find when you throw out the old rules and just have a look.
- Mark Fitzsimmons, Al Breisch

1/17 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: Again this evening (see 1/16) just after 5:00 p.m., one short-eared owl was foraging over the fields on the south side of Flint Mine Road. There had been a dark-phase rough-legged hawk in the same fields just a bit earlier.
- Jim Coe

1/17 - Fishkill, HRM 61: We were driving on Main Street in Fishkill Village - it was snowing and the ground was completely covered in white - when we noticed a beautiful red fox come prancing around the corner. We were surprised to see him at that time of the day. In our rear-view mirror we watched the fox dart across Main Street and head for the trees on the other side. His casual morning stroll was now over.
- Virginia Sabatelli

1/17 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was another convocation of gulls - at least 100, maybe more. And among them were two and possibly three immature Iceland gulls (one was at a distance and, coupled with sun glare on the ice, made positive identification problematic). Overhead an immature eagle soared, apparently at a comfortable, non-threatening height for the gulls.
- Tom Lake

1/17 - Storm King, HRM 56: We saw the golden eagle again today from the Route 9W parking area (see 1/12).
- Jonathan Deull

1/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: My American goldfinch flock of 150+ might be getting thinned out. In addition to the northern shrike that I have seen on a couple of occasions, today there was a sharp-shinned hawk harassing the feeder birds. It is very exciting to be watching a huge flock of goldfinches and then see the distinctive silhouette of a hawk go screaming through the flock. I saw the sharpie do this twice and didn't see it catch a bird on either attempt, but I'm sure it will continue to try.
- Charlotte Demers

1/18 - Albany, HRM 145: At noon today, two snowy owls were spotted at the Albany International Airport near the control tower.
- Alan Mapes

1/18 - Halfmoon, HRM 164: In late afternoon we watched two sandhill cranes by a cattail marsh on the north shore of the Mohawk, just east of the twin bridges on the Northway. This is the spot they were night-roosting last year and sporadically this year.
- Alan Mapes

1/18 - Schenectady, HRM 159: The snowy owl previously reported at the Schenectady County Airport was still present today. I viewed the bird as it perched on a short light along a runway.
- Matt Medler

1/18 - New Paltz, HRM 78: In late afternoon, a fellow birder and I spotted a pair of bald eagles along the Wallkill River off Libertyville Road. The pair separated with one eagle flying to the river while the other flew to a tree. Within minutes they met again and perched together.
- Bailey Defino, Annell Presbie

[This behavior is typical of the onset of the mid-winter bald eagle courtship season for local birds. Mated pairs will be seen much more frequently in each other's company, both perched and conducting aerial maneuvers that often look like a ballet performance. Tom Lake.]

1/18 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The midday high tide was nearing full as ice floes raced upriver. Inshore however, in shallower water, the current had already turned to ebb and a narrow band of ice drifted gently downstream. Across the river at Cedarcliff, the mated pair of bald eagles from nest NY62 was perched in a red oak, so close together that I could see no space between them. Courtship season was here.
- Tom Lake

["Mahicanituk" is a written approximation of an Algonquian word describing the Hudson that has been loosely interpreted as "the river flows both ways." Since Hudson River Indians had an oral language, this word has been written with as many variations as it has had interpretations. The most common interpretation is that "flows both ways" refers to the four six-hour tidal currents in the estuary each day - two floods and two ebbs. But there is another interpretation that is never more obvious than with winter ice: As each tidal current slows, there is a brief period of time when - due to the momentum of the huge volume of deep water in the channel - that part of the river takes longer to stop and turn than does water in the shallows, where the lesser volume switches direction sooner. During that window today, the river and its ice flowed both ways, at once. Tom Lake.]

1/18 - George's Island, HRM 39.5: What was predicted to be a snow shower left three inches in our area. George's Island at dusk was a beautiful plethora of colors: white shoreline, silver river, purple mountains, and a dark blue cloud that extended behind the mountains as far north and south as we could see. Interspersed in the cloud were tiny slivers of pink that were radiating from the setting sun. We were delighted to see four eagles on the ices floes, oblivious to the huge barge that was passing by. Two of them flew off the ice and interacted in the air. Then we spotted two more flying, eventually disappearing behind Dogan's Point. In the diminishing light it was difficult to tell if the eagles were adults or immatures.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

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