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Hudson River Almanac January 26 - February 1, 2014

OVERVIEW

The avian highlight of the week was the increased presence (return?) of robins, just in time for the seventeenth annual Great Backyard Bird Count (February 14-17). To participate in this important citizen science endeavor go to the Great Backyard Bird Count website.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

1/29 - Troy, HRM 152: We have had a pair of Carolina wrens the past two days at our suet feeders. As a nice perk to being sick at Gramma's house instead of going to school, my six-year-old granddaughter, Kate, got to see both birds, making the wren species number 29 on her young life list. I got her a little red notebook last summer in which she excitedly records her sightings.
- Heidi Norton Klinowski

2/1 - Albany, HRM 145: Snowy owls were still being seen near at the Albany International Airport so my daughter, Sarah, took her daughter Kate, Kate's life list, and their binoculars and went there. Soon they found a birder with a snowy owl in his spotting scope, and he very kindly let Kate have a look. Kate's list is now at 30 species. When she got home, she called to tell me her news and then added, "Oh, by the way, Gramma - next time I'm at your house remind me to write down red-tailed hawk because we saw one of those too."
- Heidi Norton Klinowski

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

1/26 - Saratoga County, HRM 177-171: We saw twelve bald eagles today. Close to Saratoga National Historic Park, we spotted a snowy owl low in a tree bordering a large field. This was the first snowy we had seen this winter that was not on an airport runway. At Stillwater, we saw three adults and an immature bald eagle hanging out in various spots along the river.
- Pat Newman, Bill Newman

1/26 - Halfmoon, HRM 164: Early this morning I came upon two sandhill cranes. They were close to the road but hard to see because of the trees. It still would be interesting to find out where they go during the day.
- John Hershey

1/26 - Greene County, HRM 116: While driving along Leeds-Athens Road this afternoon, I came across an adult red-shouldered hawk on the power line along the road. I believe they tend to stick around the same territory this time of year, so this one may be reliably relocated in this area.
- Rich Guthrie

1/26 - Orange County, HRM 41: On our drive through and around the Black Dirt area, we counted a dozen rough-legged hawks, including four dark-phase; more than ten northern harriers including two gray ghosts (males); more than thirty red-tailed hawks; one hundred horned larks; and fifteen short-eared owls, eleven in the air at one time! By day's end, and after a few more stops, I would be surprised if our tally for short-eared owls had not reached 30 birds.
- Larry Trachtenberg, John Grant, Miles Grant

1/26 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Over the last two days, Steamboat Dock had displayed two contrasting vistas: Yesterday a dense fog hung over the river, almost completely obscuring the far side. Grayness dominated the landscape, making river and sky seem like one. We could barely see the six cormorants perched on the channel marker, and the beach was totally icebound. Today the sky was clear and the far side of the river was easily defined. We spotted three bald eagles on the edge of the ice where it joined open water, and another one flying toward Rockland County. The eagles on the ice kept flapping their wings as they fished and interacted - all of them seemed to be immatures.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/26 - New York Harbor (Upper Bay-Lower Bay): While leading an New York City Audubon Winter Birds and Seals eco-cruise today, we saw some nice birds. There were several large rafts of scaup sheltering along Governor's Island and the Red Hook shore, totaling about 400 birds (mostly greater scaup, but too distant for positive identification). Also present were dozens of bufflehead, red-breasted mergansers, and a couple of hooded mergansers.
Beyond the Verrazano Narrows into the Lower Bay, near Swinburne and Hoffman Islands, we saw many long-tailed ducks, common goldeneyes, a common loon and a horned grebe. A half-dozen harbor seals were in the bay and were unusually acrobatic, splashing with their flippers and "porpoising" clear of the water on several occasions. On the way back we had a great view of a red-necked grebe - the first I recall seeing in New York Harbor in some time.
- Gabriel Willow

1/27 - Warren County, HRM 233: Our birding group drove along Harrisburg Road this morning between Stony Creek and Harrisburg in a long-shot hope of finding winter finches. No finches were seen but we did have a northern shrike perched in a clearing about halfway toward Harrisburg. Other birds of interest include red-breasted nuthatch and common raven.
- John Hershey

1/27 - Burnt Hills, HRM 168: Among the birds I saw today were Carolina wrens and purple finches.
- Sue Stewart

1/27 - Albany, RM 145: I stopped by the Albany International Airport today and counted four snowy owls. Two were heavily barred juveniles and two were whiter - one was almost all white and likely a male.
- Jesse Jaycox

1/27 - Chatham, HRM 126: A gorgeous red-shouldered hawk was perched in a tree today, eyeing the area but never finding whatever it was looking for, from mid-morning until after noon.
- Peter Blandori

1/27 - Saugerties, HRM 102: While walking through the upper parking area of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, my daughter, Erin Murphy, sighted a fox with a rich red coat and tail extended bounding through the snow as it crossed one of the snow-covered pastures. This beautiful winter vignette reminded her of the Winslow Homer painting known as "Fox Hunt" wherein the fox in deep snow is harassed by crows. As we conversed about our recent fox sightings, it was ironic that we both had envisioned the same painting as we watched the foxes.
- Ed Spaeth, Erin Murphy

1/27 - Millbrook, HRM 82: My dog Heidi and I spent an hour following the many fresh coyote tracks in what remained of the snow. Unlike deer, the coyotes seemed to prefer my mowed paths to the stubble of the fields, and the smooth surfaces of the frozen ponds to the snow-covered litter of the forest floor. Mostly the coyotes walked directly across the ponds, but one pond had numerous patches where the coyotes had scuffed the snow. The scuffed patches puzzled me until Heidi turned too quickly and slipped on the ice under the thin snow layer, scuffing a patch of her own. My thought is that the coyotes had tussled on the pond, whether in sport or spat, and the scuffs remained to mark the event.
- Nelson D. Johnson

1/27 - Hudson Valley: The world mourned the death of Pete Seeger today at age 94. He left behind a host of wonderful songs, and in singing them now, one can feel his compelling spirit, even though the man is no longer standing up front, conducting us with the wave of his arm or long-necked banjo. Pete's loss was felt especially keenly along the Hudson. No one did more to call attention to the sorry state of the river fifty years ago, or to recruit volunteers to the cause of cleaning it up. Never one to shirk before the difficulty of a challenge, Pete went from sailing on Newburgh Bay in "a plastic bathtub of a boat" to imagining a full-scale replica of the long-gone Hudson River sloops, organizing to build it, and then sailing the Clearwater up the river in 1969. We can all take heart in the continuing sight of this iconic sloop on a beautiful river, its rig singing as it catches the breeze, as much a part of Pete's music-making as the songs he composed to perform on stage.
- Steve Stanne

1/27 - China Pier to Croton, HRM 43-34: Eagle enthusiasts with bazooka-lens cameras were all over this reach this morning. A cursory count totaled 62 eagles. I wonder what the count really was (hidden coves, far side of the three-mile-wide Haverstraw Bay). There may have been half that many up the Croton gorge as well.
- Christopher Letts

1/27 - Cruger, HRM 39: What a surprise this morning to see a flock of robins, numbering at least 26, feeding on berries from a large juniper tree outside our window. While most of the birds were eating the berries on the ground under the tree, some were scattered throughout the branches, popping the seeds into their beaks directly from the tree. Can spring be far behind?
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

1/27 - Piermont, HRM 25: A red-necked grebe was feeding and vocalizing on the north side of the pier - rare for Rockland County. Also present this morning was a male redhead duck.
- Evan Mark

1/27 - Brooklyn, New York City: While we were looking for the common gull on Veteran's Memorial Pier in Owl's Head Park, we spotted a young ring-billed gull and an adult herring gull sporting U.S. Fish and Wildlife bands and well as field-readable colored leg bands. We submitted the band numbers to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory, and have already heard back regarding both birds. The young ring-billed gull was banded near Tewksbury, MA, in October of 2013; the herring gull was banded as a chick in 2005 on Appledore Island, ME. For those who have not tried entering banding data, the bird banding lab has made the process simple. If your data can be matched, they email you an E-Certificate of Appreciation with the data on the banded bird.
- Sean Sime, Rob Jett

1/28 - Cohoes, HRM 157: There were two adult bald eagles - I believe they were the local residents K35 and F10 although I could not read their bands - in a tree just above the falls at Cohoes. At Crescent Power Plant there were three immature eagles, two male and one female redhead ducks, and both American and fish crows.
- P.C. Mjr

1/28 - George's Island, HRM 39: There were eagles everywhere I looked today. More than a dozen were perched in trees on Dogan Point. More than a dozen were in the air. And on the rumpled ice mosaic spread across Haverstraw Bay, many more, singly and in small knots. I quit counting, and relaxed to enjoy the spectacle.
- Christopher Letts

1/29 - Fulton County, HRM 178: We scoured Fulton County today to try and add snowy owl from that county (one of only ones left in New York State without a verified report this winter). After looking over some great-looking habitat for hours, we finally found one sitting next to the runway at the Fulton County Airport just east of Johnstown. Now all eleven counties in the Hudson-Mohawk Region have had at least one report of snowy owls this winter. To our knowledge, at least, this has never happened before.
- Will Raup, Rich Guthrie, Peter Feinberg

1/29 - Oscawana Island, HRM 39: The tracks of three river otters led from an open lead on the north side of the island, and then "swoosh!" down a slide and out across the ice. A commuter train headed to Croton-Harmon and points south roared past and disappeared. I wondered how otters respond to speeding trains, and then I wondered how many commuters could recognize the presence of the otter?
- Christopher Letts

1/29 - Sleepy Hollow, HRM 28: I spotted my largest group of eagles to date, at least a dozen, maybe as many as fifteen, sitting on an ice floe just off the southern end of Hook Mountain on the west edge of the river. Some were jousting over some juicy morsel, jostling and flapping so vigorously that it was difficult to count them or distinguish adults from immatures. The distance (two miles) and having only a 20X spotting scope didn't help either. Yesterday, there were seven eagles, evenly spaced two hundred yards apart, on various chunks of ice in the middle of the river. It looks like once dinner is served, the flock becomes a rather fractious, crowded family.
- Doug Maass

1/30 - Schodack, HRM 139: I put up a hermit thrush that was in a wet ditch along the road, and watched as it flew up into a small bush.
- Nancy Kern

1/30 - Selkirk, HRM 135: A couple of days ago I took a ride down to Henry Hudson Park. The river was frozen shore-to-shore. Even though there is an eagle nest across the river, and there had been some activity noted around the nest earlier in the month, there were no eagles around. I returned yesterday morning with binoculars. The river was still frozen across - still no eagles in sight. The only sound was the cracking of the ice at dead low tide, a sound that began upriver and followed downstream. Today there was an eagle by the nest. A lead had been opened in the river but it was still mostly frozen. This was only the fifth eagle I had seen in the wild.
- Roberta Jeracka

1/30 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: I was in the NYSDEC winter raptor survey in the Coxsackie Creek Grasslands Preserve at dusk when a short-eared owl appeared overhead and flew across Route 9W. My only other sightings were three northern harriers.
- John Kent

1/30 - Columbia County, HRM 112: Walking along the Ridge Road trail at the Olana State Historic Site I was treated to six male bluebirds jockeying for position in the cedars. What a sight in the bright sunshine with the Hudson River as an easel in the background to display that unmistakable blue.
- Fran Martino

1/30 - Poughquag, Town of Beekman, HRM 71: The horned grebe, first seen by Adrienne Popko on Red Wing Pond on Green Haven Road on 1/24, was seen again today by several Waterman Bird Club members. Kateri Kosek also found a white-fronted goose in with the Canada geese.
- Barbara Butler

[On 12/5, Doreen O'Connor spotted a "mystery" goose at Poughquag. The final and tenuous conclusion of the Waterman birders on that occasion? The bird was a hybrid Canada goose x white-fronted goose. Tom Lake.]

1/31 - Hoosick Falls to Mechanicville, HRM 172-168: Among the birds we saw today were an adult bald eagle, seven purple finches (six were males), a house finch, and our highlight, a northern shrike. The northern shrike was in a tree above a small area marked as wetlands.
- Mike Peluso, Dave DiSiena

[There seem to be more purple finches being reported this winter. Rich Guthrie feels that late winter/early spring purple finch sightings can be somewhat common, especially in an irruption year. As for this winter, they may be still moving south, late as it is, or some birds that passed through last fall are making their way back north. Tom Lake.]

1/31 - Saratoga County, HRM 159: I checked out the Vischer Ferry Power Plant this morning for the first time in awhile. I found a first-winter male white-winged scoter by the river. In early November there was a white-winged scoter that spent at least ten days at the same place. I'm wondering if this was the same scoter. Other birds of interest included seven greater scaup and an unusual pair of a female common merganser with what looked like a first-winter male common goldeneye.
- John Hershey

1/31 - Copake, Columbia County, HRM 108: Following the Roeliff-Jansen's Kill, I counted fourteen bird species, among them Canada geese (600), American robins (200), and three red-winged blackbirds.
- Nancy Kern

1/31 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: We spotted a beaver eating false indigo near the Indian Kill in Mills-Norrie State Park. The beaver ignored us as we stood watching it eat. There is evidence that the beaver has also been eating red oak. We have seen this beaver and possibly a second one in the same area for a couple of weeks.
- Brianna Rosamilia, Zoraida Maloney, Jim Herrington

1/31 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 64: We were fishing "small water," a tiny, unnamed, and frozen-over Hudson River tributary nearly a hundred feet above the fall line. With limited space and available resources (food) the fish in this stream were smaller versions of big water species. Cutting through nearly ten inches of ice brought us into a world of four to five-inch-long bluegills and pumpkinseed sunfish, all adults and as pretty as jewels. With our faces to the ice, peering down into the "tunnel," we could see the fish five feet below in the clear water. "Fish TV," we like to call it.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The term "fall line" seems to encompass a range of meanings. Some associate it with sea level and tide, as the point where the bottom of a river rises above sea level. According to the National Geographic Society: "A fall line is the imaginary line between two parallel rivers, at the point where the rivers plunge, or fall, at roughly the same elevation. Fall lines are often located where different elevation regions, such as coastal and piedmont, meet. ... In the eastern United States, there is a major fall line between the hard rock of the Appalachian Piedmont and the soft sediment of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. This line was important to early European explorers because it marked the limits of river travel for ships. Many cities developed along this fall line, including Trenton, New Jersey; Richmond, Virginia; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania." Steve Stanne, Tom Lake.]

1/31 - Beacon, HRM 61: I hiked up Fishkill Ridge to two separate scrub oak/mountain laurel thickets, hoping to collect rabbit pellets for a project looking at the distribution of the New England cottontail, the native cottontail rabbit east of the Hudson River (the eastern cottontail that also occurs here is an introduced species). I was somewhat disappointed to find no rabbit signs in these two areas that had evidence of rabbits roughly seven years ago. However, I was encouraged to see several sets of ruffed grouse tracks, one with clear wing imprints in the snow in the location from which it had flown. I'm not sure how many grouse the eight to ten sets of tracks represented, but this is more grouse sign than I have seen in some time in this area, as grouse numbers in this region of the state have declined. In the mid-1980s, I recall ruffed grouse being abundant in this portion of the Hudson Highlands, flushing numerous birds on many occasions from mountain laurel thickets and even fairly open hardwoods along Fishkill and Schofield ridges in winter. It was nice to see grouse sign in an area where I first became acquainted with this species. Other than grouse, I saw many sets of white-tailed deer tracks (spotted nine deer), gray squirrel tracks, and a few sets of coyote tracks. One lone raven was also heard calling as I ascended the ridge.
- Jesse Jaycox

1/31 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: A lone eagle commanded an ice floe not far from shore and another adult was perched on a tree branch over the inlet to Furnace Brook. As we crossed the small bridge over the brook a pair of beautiful hooded mergansers swam in the narrow open channel. They were completely oblivious to the muskrat that emerged right alongside them, swam for a bit, and then disappeared under the bridge.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/1 - Orange County, HRM 41: I took my twelve year old niece to look for snowy owls in the Black Dirt region of Orange County today. We drove roads where snowy owls had recently been reported. We came upon a group of birders with spotting scopes and, as we approached, I saw the white blob that had their attention, a mostly white snowy owl sitting on the ground in the open field almost devoid of snow. The snowy owl was surely the highlight of the day.
- Jesse Jaycox, Brooke Osekoski

2/1 - Piermont, HRM 25: I had two nice waterfowl sightings at the Pier today, a female greater scaup and a long-tailed duck in brilliant winter plumage.
- Linda Pistolesi

2/1 - Halfmoon, HRM 164: We found about 1,500 gulls on the Mohawk River ice, including eight Iceland and three glaucous gulls.
- John Kent

2/1 - Beacon, HRM 61: I went early to Long Dock Park to photograph a sunrise that turned out to be disappointing. While watching the river, I saw a bird that I had never seen before. It was swimming in an open lead along the shore and diving with some common mergansers - a red-necked grebe in winter plumage.
- Terry Hardy

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