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Hudson River Almanac February 9 - February 15, 2014


We often feature bald eagle nest NY62 (Town of Poughkeepsie) in the Almanac. There is nothing unique about this nest or the exploits of its occupants; it simply serves to remind us of the collective eagle activity ongoing in more than two dozen nests in the watershed, from above tidewater to the lower estuary to the sea.


2/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Following a brutally cold night (-8 degrees Fahrenheit), both adult bald eagles were at the nest (NY62). Their efficient but not frenetic activity was in keeping with the season. They were refurbishing the nest with new material and replacing the old that had lost its usefulness. Bald eagle nests are accretional; they grow in overall size each year as the circumference expands and the sides rise. This pair's first nest, built thirteen years ago in a white pine about three miles away, eventually grew too large for the branches that held it. Fortunately, the collapse occurred in the fall and the pair had time to build a new nest nearby for the following season.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[This bald eagle pair in the Town of Poughkeepsie was gearing up for its fourteenth season. If all is on schedule, they will be incubating by the end of the month. The male is not banded and may be of Canadian origin; the female is banded (N42) and came from a Delaware River nest in Sullivan County in 1995. She is nineteen years old. This is their third nest - the first two were in the Town of Wappinger. They have raised and fledged twelve eaglets to date. Tom Lake.]


2/9 - Town of Knox, HRM 147: On a drive through the Town of Knox this morning, I found a large group of very dark-colored American robins feeding on berries and in fruit trees. I've seen many more of these specific robins this year compared to past years. They have almost black heads and necks and uniform deep orange underparts. There are various conclusions as to whether they represent a geographically distinct subspecies [race]. eBird frequency and abundance graphs show a lot more robins being reported this winter than in the past three years. Perhaps they are birds from Canada that have pushed south due to severe winter weather this year. Out in Knox farm country, I found small flocks of both horned larks and snow buntings.
- Tom Williams

2/9 - Port of Albany, HRM143: I counted five lesser scaup and one female greater scaup on the Hudson River this afternoon.
- Richard Guthrie

2/9 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: I came across a gray catbird feeding on multi-flora rose hips at the Hannacroix Creek Preserve. Not far away there was an adult red-shouldered hawk.
- Alan Mapes

2/9 - Saugerties, HRM 102: I was heading north at dusk on Kings Highway to the village of Saugerties when I saw what I first took to be the largest swarm of bats I had ever seen. I estimated well over a thousand in a formation nearly 200 feet long and 40 feet wide. I wondered if they were blackbirds as they moved across the road about 30 feet off the ground, twisting sinuously but not doubling back. As I passed under the stragglers at the thinning rear of the formation, the wing flutters strongly resembled bats. Yet, I fully knew that bats were inactive or had migrated by this time of the year.
- Dan Marazita

[It is virtually impossible that they were bats. Dan's understanding that bats around here are either inactive or migrate south for winter is almost completely accurate. Occasionally a single individual might be encountered if it is disturbed from hibernation. It is extremely rare to see more than two or three above ground in mid-winter. One of the more infamous and obvious effects of the white-nose syndrome disease is that it drives bats to fly from hibernation sites in mid-winter, only to starve and die on the winter landscape. However, even at the height of this phenomenon in 2008, we never saw anything even approaching the number of animals Dan describes. Finally, even if there was some way that so many could be aroused simultaneously we would not expect our bats to fly in a group as Dan describes. This was undoubtedly a flock of birds, perhaps starlings based on the description. Carl Herzog]

[My guess is that this was a formation of starlings behaving in the manner that they do when encountering a hawk. Rich Guthrie.]

2/9 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: During my boyhood in Michigan, the First Robin was a big deal, a trusted harbinger of spring. In the lower Hudson Valley for the past couple decades, robins have been, in most winters, a sometimes thing. Has a January robin become a sign of spring, instead of missing the last bus out of town and being here for winter's duration? For the past few weeks hardly a day has passed when I have not seen or heard them. A dozen robins certainly dresses up a crab-apple tree, which is a good place to find them. Even the prospect of another cold and icy month is eased when I see or hear these little thrushes.
- Christopher Letts

2/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: At the railroad bridge over the Croton River we spotted an immature bald eagle in a tree overlooking the tracks. As we watched, another eagle flew in and perched in a nearby tree. Behind these two, three more flew along the shoreline and another immature flew right over our heads. Six eagles in a very small area.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/9 - New York Harbor, Upper Bay: On today's New York City Audubon Winter Eco-cruise, we had some great sightings. In Buttermilk Channel, next to Governor's Island, we had a large flock of several hundred greater scaup, as well as bufflehead, red-breasted mergansers, gadwall, black ducks, and double-crested cormorants. In Erie Basin there was an American coot, more of the above ducks, a horned grebe, and a few American wigeon. In the harbor off Red Hook (Brooklyn) we had a number of red-throated loons and a pair of red-necked grebes. Several more red-throated and common loons were spotted around the harbor. There was a charming gang of harbor seals loafing on the rocks (at least a dozen, including several small yearling pups) at Swinburne Island just outside the Narrows. Among the birds seen there was a ruddy turnstone.
- Gabriel Willow

2/10 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: There was a peregrine falcon perched on the ledge of the Crescent Power Plant late this afternoon. The drake long-tailed duck was still present below in the water.
- John Hershey

2/10 - Delmar, HRM 143: The road edges of Mead's Lane in Delmar continued to hold lots of sparrows. Today I had one white-crowned, along with many song, white-throated, and American tree sparrows.
- Alan Mapes

2/10 - Columbia County, HRM 121: I counted eighteen bird species today at Austerlitz. Among them were wild turkey, common raven, robins, tree sparrows, and a purple finch. The male goldfinches were beginning to get their yellow breeding colors.
- Nancy Kern

2/10 - Crugers, HRM 39: There seems to have been a shortage of gray squirrels this year, but today there was one at the feeder. I noticed the animal digging in the snow, and imagined that it was looking for food. But to my surprise, the squirrel came up with a mouthful of leaves. I watched for quite a while as it continued to dig up leaves and then scamper up the blue spruce where it was constructing a new nest.
- Dianne Picciano

2/10 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Scraping windshield frost is almost a pleasure when the wind is down and the birds are singing. Woodpeckers were drumming; doves, cardinals and titmice were all practicing their spring songs. Our resident red-tailed hawks were more conspicuous in their display flights, and so were the splatters of maple sap on driveway and vehicles.
- Christopher Letts

2/11 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: Late this afternoon I watched the gulls hanging out in the river close to the Crescent Power Plant. I counted at least five Iceland gulls and one glaucous gull.
- John Hershey

2/11 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The female eagle (N42) made a run to a nearby snowy stream bank to gather grass for her nest (NY62). The stream was running weakly under the snow despite the sub-freezing temperatures. She scratched and clawed at the snow to expose the grass that would become a soft, downy cup for her eggs.
- Bob Rightmyer

2/11 - Oscawana Point, HRM 38.5: We spotted six bald eagles this morning in the trees on the Point, four adults and two immatures, their feathers gleaming in the sunlight. As we watched, another eagle flew around the point into the trees. The inlet to Furnace Brook was almost completely thawed with only a few ice floes. On one of them, an immature eagle was bobbing its head up and down, devouring a fish.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/11 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Birds have been emptying the feeders by evening every day. While many of them visit the hanging suet feeder, the most wonderful to watch is the red-bellied woodpecker. With each jab, light flashes off the bird's brilliantly-colored head and sparkles its red eyes. As the suet slab gets devoured, the red-bellied hangs lower and lower on the feeder until, finally, it is upside-down.
- Robin Fox

red crossbill2/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I had planned to travel to Vermont to see snowy owls but ended up getting completely distracted by lots of boreal chickadees and red crossbills in the Newcomb-Minerva area. I stopped along Route 28N to listen for black-backed woodpeckers and found red crossbills calling right over my head. [Photo of adult male red crossbill by Dave Menke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Joan Collins

2/12 - Albany, HRM 145: Fifty snow buntings descended at my feet today while I was watching three snowy owls at the Albany International Airport.
- P.C. Mjr

2/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67: This was another bitter cold night (nine below zero). In the early hours a chorus of yips and squeaks echoed through the icy still air. Coyotes - on the move, keeping warm.
- Tom Lake

2/13 Minerva, HRM 284: I found red crossbills in two locations. Once again, there was a male calling, singing, and flying around. I also found a pair of red crossbills quietly vocalizing together as they foraged in trees and then gritted in the road. I heard at least one gray jay vocalizing loudly. I had to ignore the gray jay because I was in the middle of photographing boreal chickadees, a rare opportunity. This is the second time in the past week that I have found a gray jay in the Minerva area, not a species that I often observe here.
- Joan Collins

[Birds' gizzards grind and digest tough food like seeds. "Gritting" aids in the process; birds acquire grit - very small stones and sand - as they feed. Although pecking grit from winter roads also adds necessary salt to their diet, there is evidence that the benefits are outweighed by automobile strikes and perhaps salt toxicity. Tom Lake.]

2/13 - Mohawk, HRM 157: I spotted two immature bald eagles, three hooded mergansers, and a drake long-tailed duck at the Crescent Power Plant. I wish I knew my gulls better; there had to have been more than a thousand in sight, swirling in the air.
- Mike Cavanaugh

2/13 - Barrytown HRM 98: Late this afternoon, as I was walking at Bard College, I counted fifteen black vultures in the trees. Several other birds flew off a building and headed away. I tried to watch where they were going but lost sight of them. The birds in the trees all looked in good shape; some were even preening. I have to believe that they were having a tough time finding food that is not frozen solid with the very cold and snowy winter we are having.
- Bob Gramling

[The best guess is that this was either a night roost, or very close to one - the timing was right. Food is a bit light under these winter conditions, but they manage with road-kill, train-kill, forest-kill (predators' leftovers), and even suet feeders (see 2/14). Tom Lake.]

2/13 - Esopus Island, HRM 85: One look at the river, seemingly frozen bank-to-bank, and you doubt the presence of any eagles or waterfowl. Yet there they were, a pair of adult bald eagles perched side-by-side in a hardwood tree on Esopus Island. They may have love to keep them warm, but where are they eating these days?
- Tom Lake

2/13 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: During the biggest snowstorm of the season, I looked out to watch all the activity at our bird feeders, which were hopping. What did I see running around but a chipmunk! It had tunneled out of the snow and was foraging as best it could. My guess was that it had run out of its winter cache of food. I decided to help it out and poured a nice little pile of black oil sunflower seed right at the doorway of its subterranean home. However, a smart pair of Carolina wrens soon found the pile; we're hoping all three had an easier time with this storm.
- Donna Lenhart, Bill Lenhart

2/13 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In the dark hours before midnight, deep thunder like a bass drum rolled across the landscape. Occasional flashes of lightning provided back-glow in the heavy overcast. When first light came, the birds were getting anxious. Heavy snow was falling, ten inches were on the ground, and the feeders were hardly adequate for the number of birds that were queued up. Besides the usual juncos and goldfinches, song sparrows and white-throated sparrows were vying with cardinals, downy woodpeckers, and starlings for seed.
- Tom Lake

2/13 - Crugers, HRM 39: We got almost another foot of snow on top of what we already had. The seed catchers under the feeders in our yard were weighted down with snow and looked like they were ready to collapse. The birds were in a frenzy as the snow piled high around them. We counted at least a dozen cardinals, thirty juncos, six mourning doves, four blue jays, many sparrows (lost count), and a female downy woodpecker during the course of the day, frantically devouring the seeds and peanuts. Their colors were striking against the white backdrop.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/13 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The forecast thunderstorm showed up after dark. There was a flash of lightning, then a few breaths, then distant thunder, then again, then nothing for several minutes. It climaxed with the brightest spotlight-flash, so bright that it shook the windows, followed immediately by an astonishing, crashing, banging roar of thunder-clap. It really shook the house much like an earthquake. The booming noise echoed back and forth across the frozen reservoir and into the hills. The sound finally faded after a minute of thudding and rumbling through the dark. I waited, I confess - quite alarmed - but that was it. Nothing more. It took me quite a while to relax.
- Robin Fox

2/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The night following the day of a ten-inch snowfall brought another foot of white. I had my snowshoes out before first coffee. The thunder and lightning of last night seemed quite remarkable given the 18 degrees F air temperature. The 22 inches of snow that had fallen over the last day-and-a-half reminded me of February 12, 2006, when Manhattan received 26.9 inches.
- Tom Lake

2/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I snow-shoed along a brush line and across a field - scattering bluebirds and putting up song sparrows and white-throated sparrows to reach a good vantage for NY62. Both adults were there. The female was in the nest, moving around a bit, settling down, then changing position. It looked very much like she was arranged the furniture or fluffing up her pillow, getting ready to incubate eggs. Although the male was perched on a limb only six feet away, they chortled back and forth. It would be fascinating to know what they had to say.
- Tom Lake

2/14 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Years ago I began hanging a big suet feeder from a maple 30 yards from my back door. It seemed nothing but birds could reach it - no problems with suet thieves. Until today. I heard a great din raised by jays and crows. The feeder was on the ground, being addressed by two black vultures. Everybody is hungry this winter. I rescued and re-hung the feeder as the vultures departed. When I first hung the feeder, two months ago, I did it dry-shod. When I refilled it two weeks ago, I stood in ankle-deep snow. Today I floundered and almost foundered, in heavy snow over my knees. In 30 years we have not had a snow accumulation like this on level ground.
- Christopher Letts

2/14 - Nanuet, Rockland County, HRM 28: On a very cold morning, when the air temperature was just crawling above single digits, the Nanuet High School Environmental Science students headed outside to participate in the Audubon Great Backyard Bird Count. Positioned in teams around the Nanuet Outdoor Education Center, the students scanned the tree line with binoculars and listened for songs and calls. The ground was covered with eighteen inches of ice-topped snow, the air was frigid, but the students held fast. The count was recorded: a ring-billed gull, several American tree sparrows, two snow buntings, and three very boisterous northern mockingbirds. As the bus pulled out, a dozen Canada geese appeared suddenly and flew overhead in formation as if to taunt the departing counters.
- Margie Turrin, Sonia Cairo, Chuck Barone

2/15 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: I watched an interesting "pairing" today on the Mohawk River: a male bufflehead duck diving alongside a female scaup. They seemed to enjoy each other's company and stayed together the whole time I watched. There were no other scaup for comparison so I could not tell which species.
- Russ Loeber

2/15 - Albany, HRM 145: I spotted an immature snowy owl sitting on the Number 2 sign at the Albany International Airport. No snow buntings - they keep eluding me.
- Russ Loeber

2/15 - Newburgh, HRM 61: As I was coming to school in midday at Mount Saint Mary College, there was a flock of more than 100 robins perched in trees and on roof tops.
- Tom Sarro

2/15 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: On the Metro North commuter train to Manhattan this morning, I saw two coyotes out on the snow and ice-covered bay at Denning's Point. One was running as if chasing something and the other was just standing some distance away. Both were far from shore at the mouth of Fishkill Creek, taking advantage of temporarily enlarged frozen hunting grounds.
- Jerry Goodman

2/15 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: I watched an immature glaucous gull on the north side of the Pier, mixed in with many other gulls.
- Evan Mark

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