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Hudson River Almanac January 19 - January 25, 2014

OVERVIEW

The atypically-cold January continued, and the ice choking the Hudson made it necessary for many eagles to move downriver to find consistently open water. Snowy owls and sandhill cranes delighted birders, while it was a banner season for ice fishing.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/23 - Newcomb, HRM 302: January 2014 has been exhibiting some remarkable temperature extremes. We have seen temperatures ranging from 40 degrees above zero to 20 below. We have experienced a 40 degree shift in temperature over a twelve-hour period. Arctic temperatures are back; the past three days have not seen the temperatures rise above 10 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average daily temperature of -12. Our frost tube is showing the frost reaching eight inches in depth, a combined result of the poor insulating quality of our ten inches of snow and the sub-zero air temperatures. In comparison, during the winter of 2012-13, the frost never reached deeper than four inches.
- Charlotte Demers

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/19 - Halfmoon, HRM 164: We found the sandhill cranes early this morning along Canal Road. They were close to the road but behind some trees. They were mostly preening and very aware of our presence, but didn't take more than a step.
- John Hershey, Russ Loeber

1/19 - Cohoes, HRM 157: In the parking lot on the way to view the river, I counted fifteen snow buntings. At the river, I spotted eight immature bald eagles on the ice of the Mohawk River just west of Crescent Power Station.
- Ron Harrower

1/19 - Columbia County, HRM 124-120: I counted nine species of birds along the Stockport Flats today, including a horned grebe and five bald eagles, three of which were immature.
- Nancy Kern

1/19 - Dutchess County, HRM 85: We saw an adult bald eagle feeding on a white-tailed deer carcass on the ice of a pond on Bangall Road. Overall this season, we have had the most eagle sightings since we were in Alaska.
- Lindsey Rowe, Jim Rowe

1/19 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: In midday, I counted eight bald eagles (five adult and three immature) on the river on ice floes just outside the mouth of Wappinger Creek.
- Jay Meyer

[Digital photos revealed that one of the birds Jay spotted on the river was the banded adult female (N42) from eagle nest NY62. Tom Lake.]

1/19 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I was walking east along the water from Mother's Lap when I spotted a "white falcon" flying away from me, less than 50 feet off the deck, down the length of the swimming beach. It finally veered up and into trees. What was that? It was too small and too fast for a gyrfalcon. Was it an albino peregrine? What were the choices?
- Christopher Letts

[Mother's Lap is a colloquial name for a small, sheltered cove on the northwest end of Croton Point. When commercial fishing was in its heyday in the mid-twentieth century, fishermen knew they could find refuge from wind and current in this little bay as their nets worked offshore. In that regard, it reminded them of the calm and solace of sitting in "mother's lap." Tom Lake.]

1/20 - Schenectady, HRM 159: The snowy owl previously seen at the Schenectady County Airport was still there today at noon. This time it was perched on a number 2 sign.
- Mark Claydon

1/20 - Coeymans Landing, HRM 133.5: I ran the west side of the Hudson River waterfowl count from southern Albany County (Coeymans Landing) to southern Greene County (Smith's Landing). Heavy snow began in mid-afternoon. The river was mostly open with only a few backwaters frozen over. With so much open water, there was no concentration of waterfowl as had been in prior years. Among the highlights were Canada geese (861), bald eagle (8), Iceland gull (1), eastern screech owl (1), American kestrel (1), and 100 red-winged blackbirds at Four-Mile Point Preserve.
- Rich Guthrie

1/20 - Hudson Highlands, HRM 52: Riding on the Metro North commuter train to Manhattan affords a great view of this beautiful valley and its wildlife. There is a spot in Constitution Marsh below Cold Spring where there is commonly an eagle sighting, usually a pair. However, as of the past few months, it has been a lone eagle. Today they were both there, a good sign of the start of breeding season.
- Glen Heinsohn

1/20 - Pine Island, HRM 45: Together we did some roaming in the Black Dirt area. On Indiana Road we had five rough-legged hawks and three harriers. On Skinner Lane we found snow buntings and Lapland longspurs. It was a pleasant surprise on Missionland Road to spot a snowy owl sitting on top of a telephone pole. This was a fun afternoon with gifts found only in winter.
- Ken McDermott, Bruce Nott

1/20 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: There was a merlin perched on the landfill this afternoon. Elsewhere on the Point, I found a great horned owl at rest and an eastern screech owl moving up and down in its hole. Two owls and a falcon made for a great hour-and-a-half walk.
- Larry Trachtenberg

1/20 - Beacon, HRM 61: The river was locked in ice, bank-to-bank. It was not solid but floes of all sizes that had coalesced like pieces of giant jigsaw puzzle to form a flat surface that may have held a walker intent on reaching the other side. The mid-morning tide had turned but the flood current was indecipherable as the ice held fast. Near the Newburgh side of the river a single immature bald eagle was perched on the top of a tipped-on-end ice floe. That was the only show on an otherwise quiet river for the East Fishkill Girl Scouts, parents, and friends. Yet, seeing just one eagle through a spotting scope was reward enough.
ice conditions at Poughkeepsie - Tom Lake, Marguerite Stein, Denise McGuinness

[The U.S. Coast Guard issues ice reports and photos from "ice flights" over New York Harbor and the Hudson River during the winter. Pictures such as this image of the Hudson at Poughkeepsie can be viewed at the Coast Guard's Icebreaking Operations website. Steve Stanne.]

1/20 - Brooklyn, New York City: It was late in the ebbing tide yesterday when we set a plankton net for 30 minutes at the corner of Pier 1 on the south side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Today the students from my oceanography class identified numerous diatoms and swarms of trocophore larvae, some identifiable as annelid worms. We took a few representative shots with cell-phone cameras through microscopes. One stalked ciliate (typical of wastewater treatment) was found among the detritus. Salinity was measured by refractometer at 17.0 parts per thousand.
- Timothy Anderson

[A plankton net is an extremely small mesh net drawn through water or set in the tidal current, as in this instance, to trap minute animals and plants. Trocophore larvae are a life stage of some aquatic invertebrates, including mollusks and worms; they are spherical or pear-shaped, with a ring of cilia - tiny hairs which wave in coordination to move the animal through the water. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

1/21 - Town of Stuyvesant, HRM 127: I counted 25 species of birds today, including nine wild turkeys feeding on a harvested corn field; a sharp-shinned hawk; eighteen Lapland longspurs; and two snow buntings.
- Nancy Kern

1/21 - Columbia County, HRM 124-120: The tide was ebbing very fast. The air temperature was only 12 degrees F, the river had a lot of broken ice, and Stockport Creek was iced-over in areas. I counted eighteen species of birds along the Stockport Flats, including one lesser scaup; a common raven; and one adult bald eagle.
- Nancy Kern

1/21 - Germantown, HRM 105: I had six bald eagles at the Anchorage today, two adults on the island offshore and four immatures flying kettle-style over a meadow adjacent to the river. The Anchorage, also called Lasher Park, is the boat launch area at the bottom of Anchorage Road.
- Mimi Brauch

1/21 - Chelsea, HRM 65.2: The resiliency of eagles: For more than a half-hour we watched an adult bald eagle perched on the ice facing a stiff north wind (15 miles per hour) and a strong snow squall. The air temperature on shore was 12 degrees F but to the eagle it felt like ten below zero with wind-chill factored in.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

1/21 - Orange County, HRM 47: While enjoying yesterday's snowy owl again today, we all watched three huge flights of mixed blackbirds heading north. We estimated the number at 4,000-5,000 birds. It seemed extremely early and not so wise a choice, considering the weather forecasts.
- Ken McDermott, Carol Linguanti, Lee Hunter, Debbie Powell

1/21 - Croton River, HRM 34: There were nine ruddy ducks holding station close to the railroad bridge at the mouth of the Croton River. All were easily within "ducking distance" of the many bald eagles whose presence here has been almost a constant. As I watched the trim ruddy ducks, with tails cocked at 45 degrees, a common loon surfaced a few feet away. In the early stages of our latent snow storm, everybody looked navy gray - the loon a battleship flanked by its escorts.
- Christopher Letts

1/22 - Halfmoon, HRM 164: We saw two sandhill cranes in their usual night roost along the Mohawk shoreline late this afternoon. Both looked fine, although they held up one foot now and then in this sub-freezing cold.
- Jim de Waal, Ken Harper

1/22 - Greene County, HRM 117: I watched a coyote trot across frozen Sleepy Hollow Lake in the Town of Athens this morning. The frigid wind certainly had him moving along briskly. It was extremely cold weather for outdoor sightings (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report for Athens was -2 degrees F, the wind chill -25) but it was certainly worth the effort.
- Bill Cavanaugh

1/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: At 3:00 a.m. the world outside was an icebox. The air was 2 degrees F and the relentless wind made it feel like -19. By first light, the wind had increased, the air temperature had dropped to -2, and the wind-chill had fallen to -29. By day's end, the temperature would fall to -9 degrees F. These were "far-side-of-the-moon" temperatures. Times like these make you wonder how and where all the songbirds find refuge and survive in the leafless forests. The conifers must be very crowded.
- Tom Lake

[Wind-chill is a calculation of how cold it feels to bare skin losing body heat to wind blowing across its surface. Tom Lake]

1/22 - Hudson River Watershed: At the Hudson Valley's extremes, the air temperature at Newcomb (HRM 302) was -21 degrees F; at New York City (HRM 5) it was -8.
- National Weather Service

1/22 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The wind was blowing diaphanous curtains of snow through the woods. The hanging feeder was festooned with as many goldfinches as could crowd onto it. The thermometer next to the feeder read barely 5 degrees F. But the birds' busy little bodies showed the promise - the start - of the lovely golden color they will wear in the spring.
- Robin Fox

1/23 - Cohoes, HRM 157: In the flats below the falls I counted seven species including five redhead ducks and fourteen common goldeneye.
- Nancy Kern

1/23 - Albany County, HRM 146: There were four black vultures flying over Slingerlands in midday before drifting off to the south over Delmar. Seeing black vultures on a cold day in January in New York: who would have thought of that even just a few years ago?
- Will Raup

1/23 - Selkirk, HRM 135: Looking from Henry Hudson Park a couple of days ago the river was frozen from shore to shore. There had been some activity around a nearby eagle's nest earlier in the month but no birds were around. I returned yesterday with binoculars but still no eagles in sight. The only sound was the cracking of the ice. This morning there was an adult bald eagle by the nest. I searched up and down but it was just the one bird. This was only the fifth eagle I have seen in the wild.
- Roberta Jeracka

1/23 - Cheviot, HRM 106: It was a "warm" 22 degrees F, the first day out of the teens in a while. The river was choked with ice but there were some open leads where common mergansers, both hens and drakes, were fishing. Much of the open water was being provided by the ice-breaker Wire out of the U.S. Coast Guard's ANT Station on the tidal Esopus Creek at Saugerties.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The acronym ANT stands for Aids to Navigation Team. The Coast Guard's Aids to Navigation Team in Saugerties is responsible for 115 Hudson River miles from Waterford (HRM 159), at the entrance to the Erie and Champlain canals, south to Peekskill (HRM 44). While their primary mission is aids to navigation (more than 250 aids, such as buoys and lights, as well as ice-breaking) they are also responsible for search and rescue, Marine Environmental Protection, and Homeland Security. Tom Lake.]

1/23 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: I was treated to the pre-mating call of a tufted titmouse this morning, the first true spring song that I have recognized as such. In the last decade it's been sounded in early February, but evidently the amount of sunlight was sufficient to trigger the declaration that the seasonal tide has changed. As usual it was offered in a subdued manner, but delivery will become more strident as spring gets closer.
- Daniel Cole Seymour

1/23 - Crugers, HRM 39: Temperatures were still in the single digits and most of the river around Oscawana Point was frozen. In late afternoon, against the silver backdrop of sky and water, we spotted two adult bald eagles way out on the ice, close together.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/23 - Manhattan, HRM 3: While walking back to my office today I spotted five brant swimming in the icy East River at high tide, just off the Esplanade at about Grand Street on the Lower East Side.
- Daniel Tainow

1/24 - Albany, HRM 145: There were four snowy owls at the Albany International Airport today including an immature, a male, a female, and one at a distance too far to identify. They shared the fields with two rough-legged hawks and a flock of 55 snow buntings.
- P.C. Mjr

1/24 - Saugerties, HRM 102: It was so cold (10 degrees F) that it became nearly impossible to keep our holes from re-freezing. We were fishing on 23 inches of hard Esopus Creek ice, strong enough to drive a car on. But to get there, we had to walk across 300 feet of three-inch-thick "black ice," the re-frozen creek channel. The clarity of the ice and water, as the light disappeared into the depths, was quite unnerving; the feeling was as though we were walking on water. However, with a week or more of sub-freezing, even some sub-zero, days and nights, those three inches of black ice were as hard as flint. The bluegills were only a minor addition to the excitement.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

1/24 - Orange County: This irruption of snowy owls has been incredible and I never get bored of seeking them. This was the tenth day since November 26 that I found one. This snowy was on Missionland Road and at some distance. It was likely the same bird that I had found four days ago near here sitting atop a telephone pole. It has been a very special season!
- Ken McDermott

1/24 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: The air was frigid but the sun felt warm. At the end of the pier, a small group of bufflehead ducks was feeding at the edge of the ice with four male and one female common goldeneyes. On the south side of the pier, hundreds of Canada geese were floating on the current both in the water and on ice floes. A flock of fifteen canvasback ducks joined them.
- Linda Pistolesi

1/25 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Four inches of fresh snow covered yesterday's scary black ice. A little more than a week ago, as a result of heavy rain in the watershed, the Esopus Creek channel was wide open and flowing briskly to tidewater below the dam in Saugerties. This mid-winter re-freezing of ice is not common; usually once ice "goes out" from a January thaw, it does not come back. For a while today, we had far more fishers than fish. But after three hours, a dozen anglers had landed nearly 50 black crappie, bluegills, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, and largemouth bass. Most were released, including several robust yellow perch, gravid with eggs.
- Tom Lake, Bob Schmidt, John Waldman, Dave Taft, Dave Yozzo

[Walking on winter ice is serious business. There are many rules of thumb regarding safe ice, many of which rarely apply. Thickness is never the prime attribute of ice; the strength lies in the texture. Is the ice being made or is it melting? Guidelines suggest two inches or less, stay off; four inches is safe for ice-fishing; five inches for snowmobiles; on ten inches you can drive an automobile. These are all assuming hard ice; late winter ice that is becoming honeycombed through melting is not safe at any thickness. The best precaution is to tread slowly and carefully - the thinnest ice is often near shore where the sun can penetrate the water column. Carry a pair of "picks of life" around your neck (sold online or in sporting goods). A fair amount of skepticism regarding ice is always best. Tom Lake.]

1/25 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: The mated pair of Tamarack Lake bald eagles was perched side-by-side on one of their favorite trees - courtship.
- Deb Kral

1/25 - Middlehope, HRM 65.5: Late this afternoon we spotted five bald eagles - two adult and three immatures - in the trees next to the railroad tracks just south of the Roseton Power Generating Facility.
- John Scott

1/25 - Fishkill, HRM 61: A balsam fir wreath with red ribbon still decorates my front door. As I opened the door today, well past sundown, a small sparrow-like (not a wren) bird flew from its shelter amidst the greens of the wreath. On such a bitter cold night, it was my hope that it would be able to find other suitable accommodations.
- Ed Spaeth

1/25 - Newburgh, HRM 61: We checked the Newburgh waterfront briefly today for gulls. Searching over what looked like Arctic pack ice, we did see several hundred gulls but at too great a distance to identify in the falling snow. Yet we were pleased to see two first-year Iceland gulls among the twenty feeding on donuts in the parking lot.
- Curt McDermott, Clara McDermott

1/25 - Brooklyn, New York City: Sean Sime was the first to spot the common gull yesterday on the breakwater and pier that abuts the access road into Owl's Head Park. The Veteran's Memorial Pier juts out into the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. I found it again today. Both days it was seen on the mid-afternoon high tide.
- Shane Blodgett

[Other observers have been reporting seeing a mew gull. The common gull and the mew gull are the same species (Larus canus). The gull is native to northern Europe, migrates to Great Britain, and occasionally reaches North America. European field guides refer to it as the common gull; American field guides tend to use the name mew gull. There is a taxonomic issue involved. Shane Blodgett explains that there are three subspecies of the mew/common gull and the common gull (Larus canus canus) is the one he has reported. Tom Lake.]

[With addition of mew gull and little gull (this from a sighting along the Mohawk River last summer by John Hershey), we now have recorded fourteen species of gulls in the watershed, along the tidewater Hudson, the Mohawk River, and adjacent uplands over twenty years of the Hudson River Almanac. Tom Lake.]

- black-headed gull
- Bonaparte's gull
- Franklin's gull
- glaucous gull
- great black-backed gull
- herring gull
- Iceland gull
- ivory gull
- laughing gull
- lesser black-backed gull
- little gull
- mew gull (common gull)
- ring-billed gull
- slaty-backed gull


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