Hudson River Almanac February 2 - February 8, 2014
This is the time of the year when the harsh blasts of winter contend with the signs of coming spring. Eagles are riding ice floes on the Hudson and snowy owls continue to draw birders to Albany's airport, while robins flock to trees still bearing last fall's crop of fruit and bluebirds start house-hunting.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
2/2 - Yonkers, HRM 18: The ice had loosened a bit on the river and the open water attracted a flock of canvasbacks near the mouth of the Sawmill River. At low tide from the stern of the Science Barge, we spotted a round head with dark eyes out in the water. It was a seal. Although we watched for half an hour as it dove and surfaced, we did not see enough of it to determine the species. It seemed to be healthy and happy.
- Bob Walters, Andy Hudak
[Over the last twenty years, four species of seals have been recorded in the Hudson River estuary: gray; harbor; hooded; and harp seals. The overwhelming majority of sightings, about 98%, have been harbor seals, with Almanac records as far upriver as Albany (HRM 145). They are spotted most often in winter on ice floes, or in spring when spawning runs of herring and shad surge in from the sea. Tom Lake.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
2/2 - Minerva, HRM 284: At an area where red crossbills appeared to be getting ready to nest, a gray jay was vocalizing amid many blue jays. I imitated a gray jay call and the bird flew toward me, perching and vocalizing for several minutes as the blue jays continued to call. The gray jay suddenly gave its loud raptor-sounding calls. As it did, a boreal chickadee began to vocalize and three red crossbills flew in.
On a brief hike of the Roosevelt Truck Trail, I startled a ruffed grouse (it startled me more), and found a female black-backed woodpecker that I watched for a long time. I also came upon two boreal chickadees and a vocalizing evening grosbeak.
- Joan Collins
2/2 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: We went to the Fort Edward grasslands this afternoon but had no luck with owls (many birders and photographers out looking). However, we did see a northern shrike in mid-afternoon and then a peregrine falcon.
- Scott Stoner, Denise Hackert-Stoner
2/2 - Green Island, HRM 153: I stopped at the Tibbits Avenue overlook of the Troy Dam in midday and spotted two common goldeneye, two long-tailed ducks, and a horned grebe.
- Alan Mapes
2/2 - Delmar, HRM 143: - A nice merlin was perched in a tree at the corner of Game Farm Road and Orchard Street, on the Five Rivers property, in midday.
- Alan Mapes
2/2 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I was pleased to see "my" pair of bluebirds perching on and entering their nest box a few days ago. The male entered after the female and was the first to leave, carrying a piece of wood shaving that I had just covered the box floor with. They have reared two broods: one in 2012 when I first erected the box and another last year with five young.
- Roland Bahret
2/2 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 43-34: This was our sixth annual winter birding trip along the Hudson River with twenty members of the Hackensack River Canoe and Kayak Club. There were bald eagles everywhere! From China Pier to the Croton River we counted 56, on the ice, perched in trees, and soaring overhead. We also spotted three ruddy ducks off Croton and several buffleheads scattered throughout.
- Bob Rancan, Janet Rancan, Alec Malyon
2/2 - Croton Point, HRM 35: As I walked up the ravine on the northeast side of the point, enjoying the relative warmth and the morning light, a walker asked "Where is the 'red' woodpecker?" I knew that a red-headed woodpecker was wintering in the oak grove at the top of the ravine, but that was all I could offer. Fifty steps farther on, three more people wanted the same information. When I reached the top I saw a knot of people glassing the canopy, the underbrush, looking for that woodpecker. But no more than 60 feet above them, an adult bald eagle was perched in a slender locust, ignoring the clamor below. As I moved away, people continued to come and go, as the eagle sat passively, getting scant attention. There and then, the hot ticket was not an eagle, nor the Super Bowl, but a red-headed woodpecker.
- Christopher Letts
2/3 - Glenville, Schenectady County, HRM 167: Purple finches continued to show up under my feeders, although the high of five (two males, three females) has dropped to two (two females). American tree sparrows have been regular visitors all winter, and are still here, but they are the only sparrows I've seen since late fall.
- Alan French
2/3 - Saratoga County, HRM 159: I stopped at the Vischer Ferry Power Plant this morning and found many of the same birds as yesterday. There were seven greater scaup, an immature common goldeneye that looks a little like a Barrow's goldeneye, a white-winged scoter, two adult bald eagles, horned grebe, and a female red-breasted merganser.
- John Hershey
2/3 - Ulster County, HRM 85: During the January full moon ("Wolf Moon"), I heard a pack of coyotes for several nights, even in the afternoon one day, yipping and howling. This sent shivers down my spine (their howls went right through me)!
- Deb Weltsch
[These were eastern coyotes, a variety of coyote that grows to a larger size and often has darker fur than is generally associated with the species. Two separate teams of researchers studying the genes of coyotes in the Northeast reported evidence that these animals, that have for decades been thought of as coyotes, are in fact coyote-wolf hybrids. The team headed by R.W. Kays, Curator of Mammals at the New York State Museum, studied coyotes from New Jersey to Maine. Jonathan Way, wildlife biologist with Eastern Coyote Research, and his colleagues, examined coyotes around Cape Cod and Boston. Both teams found that the animals carry both wolf and coyote DNA. The findings may explain why coyotes in the East are generally larger than their western counterparts - that is, more wolf-like in size - and why they are so much more varied in coat color, as might be expected from a creature with a more diverse genome. As a result, we coyotes "fans" like to refer to them as "Woyotes." Tom Lake.]
2/4 - Stillwater, HRM 171: Near the Stillwater bridge (Route 125), there were five drake redhead ducks and more than two dozen greater scaup.
- Ron Harrower
2/4 - Burnt Hills, HRM 168: Robin numbers in the hundreds were being reported at various locations. They hang around most of the winter gleaning food including crabapples. A flock just swept in and looked like they were chasing and eating crabapples on the snow.
- Susan R. Stewart
2/4 - Loudonville, HRM 148: Twenty-five robins were in my backyard today, eating rotten apples that fell from the tree during the last snowstorm. They've been around a few times this winter, and it's still odd to see them, but I certainly enjoy it.
- Kristin Clemmy
[It's always nice to see robins, no matter when. But, seeing them now isn't all that unusual these days. A few robins (actually lots and lots of robins) stay in our area over winter. Some of our Christmas Bird Counts, held in December or early January, have tallied several thousand robins. Other companions with robin flocks may include cedar waxwings, northern flickers, an occasional hermit thrush and, once in a while, Bohemian waxwings. They do like old fruit, especially apples, crab apples, and red cedar and sumac berries this time of year. The fruit seems to be preferred after it has been frozen, then thawed out. I think the freeze/thaw process breaks down the sugars in the fruits, making them more palatable and a great source of energy this time of year. That's what keeps these birds going when there aren't many earthworms available for them. And, that's why planting good native fruit trees and bushes is a good idea for the birds. Rich Guthrie.]
2/4 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: The birding highlights from the Coxsackie Flats area this afternoon and evening included a northern shrike perched on top of a medium size deciduous tree (it flew away to another tree where it looked like it bumped off another shrike), an adult male northern harrier over Flint Mine Road, and a short-eared owl coursing low over a field. I also saw a distant flock of blackbirds that may have been red-winged blackbirds. They were flying north in a manner that suggested they were on their way!
- Rich Guthrie
2/4 - Fourmile Point, HRM 121: We took a walk this afternoon at Fourmile Point Road near Coxsackie. The river was iced in, but we had a red-shouldered hawk perched near a wood duck box. Other birds included five woodpecker species, song and swamp sparrows, and many robins.
- Alan Mapes
2/4 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We counted a group of 50 geese and estimated that there were at least ten such groups in a flock that stretched several hundred yards across a chewed-over cornfield. We spent some time looking over the entire flock of 500 for oddities (non-Canada geese that tend to tag along). Through the scope we found one white snow goose on the far side of the flock, against the tree line and along the Wallkill River.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
2/4 - New Paltz, HRM 77: On a snow-covered dirt road running between two cornfields along the Wallkill River, we found many small tunnels criss-crossing in the snow from one field to the other.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
[The tunnels were made by meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus). They are small (little more than six inches long) rodents, sometimes referred to as field mice or meadow mice. Meadow voles eat grasses and sedges; in winter, they consume grass while often hidden under the snow. They are preyed upon by owls, hawks, and some mammals, and are a wintertime favorite of foxes and coyotes. Tom Lake.]
2/4 - New City, Rockland County, HRM 33: Something caught my eye as I scanned the clear morning sky: a pair of red-tailed hawks doing a series of spins and spirals. They clasped talons, linked together and spun, dropping down at such a pace that I thought they would not pull out in time to avoid colliding with the trees. They did pull apart and soared up over the trees where they melted into the background and disappeared from sight. A mating ritual.
- Margie Turrin
2/5 - Minerva, HRM 284: We finally got some snow, thirteen-inches of fluffy white, in the North Country. This gave us the opportunity to do some cross-country skiing in the "back forty," dogs and all. They had fun stepping on the backs of my skis, but we enjoyed our trip out in the snowy blast anyway. I noticed the chickadees starting to sing their spring song, which was refreshing for sure. Out on the snow-covered ice, we noticed fox tracks - a straight line of small prints. No sign of otters this year; in times past we've had otter slides and midden piles in mid-winter.
- Mike Corey
2/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: A nor'easter dropped thirteen inches of snow. It is fascinating to imagine that while we sleep through the night, dusk until dawn, our yards are a crossroads of animal activity. In the fresh snow we found tracks of coyote, white-tailed deer, crows, songbirds, squirrels, and a scattering of snow with a few drops of blood where an owl made a catch.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
2/6 - Cohoes, HRM 157: From the falls at Cohoes, two miles up the Mohawk to the Crescent Power Plant, I spotted six bald eagles today, two adults, four immatures.
- P.C. Mjr
2/6 - Albany, HRM 145: A merlin, perched high above the lawn between the north end of Indian Pond and the Indian Quad on the campus of SUNY Albany, was the highlight of my morning walk to class.
- Tristan Lowery
2/6 - Albany, HRM 145: I counted five different snowy owls at Albany International Airport today, as well as a short-eared owl.
- P.C. Mjr
2/6 - New Paltz, HRM 78: For a while now I've been seeing what I thought was a white goose out on the flood plain flats along the Wallkill River. It has not been there every day, but seems to come and go with one particular flock of Canada geese [see 2/4].
- Bob Di Giacomo
2/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: In the wake of a snowstorm that dropped thirteen inches, the eagle nest (NY62) appeared as a huge white cotton ball stuck up in a tuliptree. The mated pair was not there. I found them out on the river, the male on an ice floe, the female perched in a red oak on Cedarcliff. I could see no open leads in the iced-over river. Where do they find food? The fact that they do makes their resilience even more remarkable.
- Tom Lake
2/6 - Goshen, HRM 52: What a great surprise this morning when looking out the window to see at least 50 robins prancing on the lawn, searching for worms. Others flew from tree-to-tree or poked along in the mulch looking for food. It felt like spring had sprung.
- John M. Zahradnik
2/6 - Charles Point to Croton River, HRM 43-34: The river ice changes size and formation on every tide and the eagles react accordingly, but every day I see 40-90 eagles along this reach. Time of day and state of the tide do not seem to matter. The river off Croton was mostly ice free this morning but the trees on Dogan Point, five miles upriver, held more than two dozen birds with more flying and soaring nearby.
- Christopher Letts
2/7 - Albany, HRM 145: In late afternoon, there was still one snowy owl (female or immature) at the Albany International Airport.
- Mike Cavanaugh
white-crowned sparrow2/7 - Delmar, HRM 143: There were at least three white-crowned sparrows (immatures) and a savannah sparrow, along with song sparrows, this afternoon along Meads Lane in Delmar. [Photo of white-crowned sparrow by Dave Menke, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Alan Mapes
2/7 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: As I was traveling down Round Hill Road I came upon twenty turkey vultures feeding on a dead deer carcass on the side of the road. Perched right above them in a tree was a bald eagle just watching them eat.
- Nick Solfaro
[While bald eagles are top-end predators, they will not pass up an opportunity to scavenge roadkill. Vultures are pure scavengers, not raptors, and while they will tussle among themselves, they rarely if ever show any courage in defending their feed. If that bald eagle had been hungry, it would have scattered the vultures. Tom Lake.]
2/7 - Crugers, HRM 39: Since the storm two days ago, the snow had remained frozen on the large blue spruce in our yard and the icicles hanging on the edge were glistening in the sun. The tree was also decorated with several male cardinals, six blue jays, fifteen mourning doves, and five robins. It was a very pretty sight.
- Dianne Picciano
2/7 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: In mid-afternoon, I watched an adult bald eagle on an ice floe drift north on the Hudson at Spuyten Duyvil, just yards off the east bank of the river. It was standing upright on the ice, avidly looking into the water.
- Jen Scarlott
2/8 - Northumberland, HRM 190: I counted more than 70 horned larks along the river in Northumberland, as well as three adult bald eagles.
- Ron Harrower
2/8 - Stillwater, HRM 172: I was counting goldeneyes in the Hudson when they all took off as a bald eagle soared low overhead. Later I counted four redhead ducks among a large flock of mallards, as well as twelve greater scaup (the sun was bright enough to make out their greenish heads).
- Russ Loeber
2/8 - Cohoes, HRM 157: The Mohawk at the power station had at least four bald eagles in mid-afternoon, all immatures, putting on a good show. I also heard the distinctive "Who cooks for you?" coming from the wooded area near the parking lot, repeated twice - barred owl.
- Mike Cavanaugh
2/8 - Albany, HRM 145: At Albany International Airport I found three of the five snowy owls still there. I enjoyed seeing the darkest immature skimming the top of the snow literally inches above the surface. I also saw a female merlin and a male northern harrier.
- P.C. Mjr
2/8 - Delmar, HRM 143: We spotted a northern harrier that briefly harassed a local red-tailed hawk. We also counted six snow buntings feeding at the road's edge and a roving flock of at least 25 American tree sparrows that included at least one savannah sparrow.
- Tom Williams
2/8 - Millbrook, HRM 82: I photographed an unusually dark red-tailed hawk near Marshall's Farm (Camby Road and Oak Summit Road). It had pronounced rufous markings above and below a very dark belly band, and it had a very dark head. I posted a few pictures and it was suggested that it might be a northern red-tailed hawk subspecies (Buteo jamaicensis abieticola). So keep an eye out for this bird!
- Deb Kral
2/8 - Highland Falls, HRM 48: I have been participating in Project Feeder Watch for eight years. Today was a count day and I had a first. I have several young fruit trees and I noticed a lot of activity in them and figured that it was the robins that showed up last week. There were two robins but I also saw nine cedar waxwings land on branches that still had berries.
- Rich Fox
2/8 - Manhattan, HRM 7: In spite of the fact that bald eagle sightings are now becoming commonplace, it is still a novelty and was certainly a thrill to see two adults and an immature visiting New York City. They were on the river just off shore on the ice at 97th Street as we passed by on the Henry Hudson Parkway.
- Sheryl Sturges, Jonathan Deull
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