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Hudson River Almanac February 16 - February 22, 2014

OVERVIEW

Signs of pending springtime are multiplying: Blackbirds have joined robins in the late-winter landscape and the first glass eels are in the estuary. Turkey vultures were moving up the watershed in both latitude and elevation, not unlike progression in the blooming of flowers, a more definitive indicator that will come next month.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/20 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 14: Ingrid Finnan spotted a near-shore Hudson River ice floe drifting in the ebb tide by Spuyten Duyvil this morning with a coyote and a deer carcass on one end and two bald eagles on the other.
- David Burg, Jack McShane

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/16 - Northumberland, 190: I counted 25 snow buntings on River Road just south of Harris Road, as well as at least 150 horned larks and two Lapland longspurs.
- Ron Harrower

2/16 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: David Harrison spotted a pair of Barrow's goldeneyes on the Mohawk River west of Amsterdam in Montgomery County. They were down river from the confluence with Schoharie Creek at Fort Hunter in a larger group of common goldeneyes. Also seen nearby were three white-winged scoters in a raft of various other diving ducks.
- Tom Williams

[Barrow's goldeneye, uncommon in our area, is usually found in western North America. However, there is a small part of the population that nests along the Labrador coast. This population winters along the Atlantic coast south to Massachusetts and on some rivers, including the St. Lawrence River. In winter, they are often found with common goldeneyes. The female Barrow's is very similar to the female common goldeneye, making sightings of females outside the normal limits of the species's range extremely infrequent. Stan DeOrsey, Barbara Butler.

2/16 - Selkirk, HRM 135: I spotted three bluebirds on my porch railing this afternoon. A short time later they were drinking from melting snow clumps, all puffed up and imbibing thirstily. Then robins, more than a dozen, flew in to "drink from the well," so to speak. Then came the starlings. This went on for more than an hour.
- Roberta Jeracka

2/16 - Ulster to Orange County, HRM 78-41: I led a winter raptor trip today, hitting seven stops from Pine Island to the Shawangunk Grasslands. A "Near Death Experience" award goes to Kevin Cronin, as he dodged a desperately hungry rough-legged hawk that almost took his head off as it chased a sparrow with the vigor of a Cooper's hawk. Among the highlights were eight "gray ghosts," (male northern harriers), 54 rough-legged hawks, and three short-eared owls.
- Mike Britt

2/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 72: Looking out my window this evening I counted more than a dozen black vultures flying over. They were so close together they were almost touching. I guessed they must have a night roost nearby.
- Maha Katnani

2/16 - Orange County, HRM 41: I intensively birded the Black Dirt area of southwestern Orange County and - despite the relatively deep snow - there were plenty of good birds to be had. Among the raptor highlights were 34 rough-legged hawks, fifteen northern harriers, a red-shouldered hawk, two Cooper's hawks, a peregrine falcon, an American kestrel, and a half-dozen short-eared owls. Non-raptors included ten to fifteen thousand Canada Geese.
- John Askildsen

2/16- Verplanck, HRM 40.5: While riding past the floodgate leading from Lake Meahagh to Green's Cove, we spotted three immature bald eagles out on the ice. Four more were in the air.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

2/16 - George's Island to Oscawana, HRM 39-38: Heavy ice upriver has made this an amazing year for bald eagles in Haverstraw Bay, where there has been some open water. At midday we counted eighteen around Dogan Point and another thirteen just upriver at the mouth of Furnace Brook.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

2/17 - Saratoga County, HRM 182: I counted a flock of more than 35 snow buntings in the parking lot of Saratoga County Airport.
- Ron Harrower

2/17 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: There was a male red-breasted merganser among several greater and lesser scaup in the Hudson River at Stillwater today.
- Richard Guthrie

2/17 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: This morning Mark Fitzsimmons found a female canvasback in with redhead ducks at the Crescent Power Station.
- Will Raup

2/17 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: There were at least two, maybe three, glaucous gulls, as well as one Iceland gull near the Crescent Power Dam this afternoon.
- Richard Guthrie

2/17 - Albany, HRM 145: A male cardinal flitted above the snow banks along the bike path at the Corning Preserve. Framed by the sky, the picture was red, white and blue - quite an Olympic day.
- Fran Martino

2/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was three degrees below zero at dawn with two feet of snow blanketing the fields and stuffing the understory of the forest. In that setting it was odd to hear the cardinals in full spring song: "birdie, birdie, birdie."
- Tom Lake

2/17 - Verplanck to Oscawana, HRM 40-38: From Steamboat Dock in Verplanck to Oscawana Point, we had a 23-eagle day - twelve adults and eleven immatures. At George's Island we watched a pair in a courtship display flying up high, circling each other, locking talons, and then separating and flying off.
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

2/18 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: It was a busy day on the Mohawk. Yesterday's hen canvasback was still present at the Crescent Power Plant along with seven redhead ducks, a drake red-breasted merganser, both greater and lesser scaup, common mergansers, bufflehead, long-tailed duck, and an Iceland gull.
- John Kent

2/18 - Tilson, HRM 85: My feeders have been very well-frequented with all the snow cover. One surprise has been regular visits all winter by a lovely Carolina wren. The suet has been extremely popular, visited often by the wren; titmice; nuthatches; chickadees; and several kinds of woodpeckers. Being stuck inside has actually been a pleasure, as I have had the opportunity to sit and observe them at leisure.
- Deb Weltsch

2/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: With a winter snowpack of such depth and duration, it has been very interesting to investigate the pathways of wildlife in and out of the woods that abut our yard. I am certain these have been present in most winters, but with the comings and goings of snow cover, their tracks have been, in other seasons, very ephemeral. From the edge of the woods to the next tree line, 70 feet away, we found a busy white-tailed deer runway (seven or eight deer) that was worn down to the grass. Nearly parallel and only a few feet away, was a lighter pathway, halfway worn, where coyotes (two or three) had traveled. We found vole tunnels (coyote snacks), squirrels, evidence of an early raccoon, and a trampled canvas of a dozen or more bird tracks.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/19 - Milan HRM 90: For the last several days we've had a pair of pileated woodpeckers visiting our suet feeders right outside the window. What a treat to get such an up-close look at these magnificent birds.
- Marty Otter

2/19 - Town of Poughkeepsie: This was the type of day that proves the mettle of eagles, when natural selection decides which birds will pass on their genes. For most of the cold and damp day there was a steady to heavy fall of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. The female in eagle nest NY62 was huddled deep and it was impossible to tell if she was incubating or just assuming a posture that afforded her some comfort in what had to be a difficult time.
- Tom Lake

2/19 - Oscawana Point, HRM 38.5: The river was shrouded in fog once the rain stopped, but that did not diminish our view of six bald eagles on the Point. From the bridge over Furnace Brook we spotted six black ducks and, as we were watching them, a lovely female belted kingfisher flew past. We got a good view of its striking double breast band and spiked "hairdo."
- Dorothy and Bob Ferguson

2/20 - Ford Edward, HRM 202: I had a wonderful view of a snowy owl atop a telephone pole at the end of Plum Road in Fort Edward.
- Louis Suarato

2/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie: One of the attributes of late winter is the sudden change of weather. As bitter cold and wet as it was yesterday, today was bright, sunny, and a bit warmer. Both adults were in eagle nest NY62. By mid-afternoon, after a morning of inactivity outside the nest, they began calling to each other, with the male initiating much of the "talk." The male then went to the side of the female and, after a short period of much wing-flapping, they mated. After that brief encounter they made their way back to the nest and appeared to mate a second time.
- Eileen Stickle, Tom Lake

2/20 - Fishkill, HRM 61: With the high snow, white-tailed deer have been eating a hedge in our yard. This morning I watched a herd of fifteen deer coming out of the woods. The last one in the string only had three legs (missing the lower half of the right rear leg). After eating, she bedded down in a snow-free area under our deck.
- Lee Banner

[What happened here? The list of possibilities runs from a leg-hold trap, to an automobile collision, to a close call with a coyote, or even a hunter's poor aim. Tom Lake.]

2/20 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: At least thirty mallards and more gulls than we could possibly count were scattered along the snowy and icy shoreline around Steamboat Dock. The highlight of our visit was finding an eagle's nest with two adults in the far distance through our spotting scope. We were delighted to think that the nest might be active this year.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/20 - Westchester County, HRM 34: I was driving along the shore of the Croton Reservoir when an adult bald eagle flew just above the car. The bird and I kept pace through all the twists of Croton Avenue. When I finally turned eastward, the eagle rose above the trees and flew off toward the Hudson.
- Robin Fox

2/20 - Palisades, HRM 23: I drove into Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory this sunny morning with the windows down as it seemed like a good day for red-winged blackbirds to arrive. They did not disappoint. I spotted one in the highest branch of a sapling near the marsh and could hear its territorial song as I drove by.
- Linda Pistolesi

2/19 - Manhattan, HRM 1: While checking our traps off the steamship Lilac at Pier 25 we caught our first glass eel of the year. The River Project interns found the water temperature to be 36 degrees Fahrenheit and the salinity to be 12.0 parts per thousand. [In 2013, our first glass eels were taken in Yonkers on February 22.]
-Nina Zain

[Freshwater eels have survived global cataclysms for millions of year but now some populations appear to be diminishing - even disappearing - worldwide and scientists are not quite certain why. Compared to other fishes, their lives are cloaked in mystery. While American eels are considered freshwater fish, they are born at sea and many of them spend much of their lives in tidewater. Glass eels are one of their juvenile life stages. They arrive by the millions in the estuary each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the Sargasso Sea where they were born. "Glass eel" is a colloquial name owing to their lack of pigment and near transparency. This is a particularly vulnerable time for them, about which little is known. In anywhere from 12-30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea, where they will spawn once and then die ... or so we think. Tom Lake.]

2/21 - Saratoga National Historic Park, HRM 177.5: By the end of my day's travels, I would count eleven bald eagles, seven adults and four immatures. The first two were here, perched in a tree across the river from the Saratoga battlefield.
- Ron Harrower

2/21 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: There were eighteen greater scaup and eight lesser scaup in the Hudson River at Stillwater, accompanied by at least 250 common goldeneyes and more than 150 common mergansers. Another birder mentioned that all had arrived just this morning.
- Ron Harrower

2/21 - Hudson-Champlain Canal, HRM 166: There were many fewer ducks at Lock 2, but still seven buffleheads and five greater scaup, along with many common mergansers, mallards and black ducks.
- Ron Harrower

2/21 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: Later in the day, I counted seven drake redhead ducks in the Mohawk at the Crescent Power facility. I wondered if five of them came from Stillwater, as those five hadn't been seen there for a week. There was also a hen canvasback in with the redheads as well as some lesser scaup, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, and a long-tailed duck.
- Ron Harrower

2/21 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Our Waterman Bird Club observers spotted a male red-breasted merganser in a small lead with few common mergansers.
- Maha Katnani

2/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie: For the past six weeks, I have frequently found the adult pair from eagle nest NY62 on ice foes off New Hamburg or inside the train tracks in Wappinger Creek. Often they were in company with what appeared to be the same immature eagle, a three-year-old with the beginnings of adult plumage.
- Tom McDowell

2/22 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: Several of us saw an adult Iceland gull this morning in the river at the Crescent Power facility. I have not seen an adult Iceland gull there in several years. We also counted nine redhead ducks (eight drakes).
- Jeff Nadler, John Hershey

2/22 - Greene County, HRM 115: About on schedule, I came across a flock of red-winged blackbirds in southern Greene County this afternoon. One appeared to be staking out his territory while singing from a small tree next to a cattail marsh along the Hudson River.
- Rich Guthrie

2/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Both adults were around the nest (NY62) all day. The female spent most of the morning collecting grass and lining the nest for the eggs to come. The male just hung around. It is not easy to tell if these roles are preordained, or if the male is just lazy.
- Tom McDowell

2/22 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: An immature bald eagle, possibly a late three-year-old, soared low overhead. Through my zoom lens, I was able to see that it had a blue band on its leg.
- Bob Rightmyer

[This was almost certainly a New York State bird. As far as I know, no other nearby states are using blue bands. The NYSDEC is still using blue leg bands, although not nearly the numbers that we used when the bald eagle was an endangered species. Pete Nye.]

2/22 - Croton River, HRM 24: I photographed a double-crested cormorant consuming a rather large fish above tidewater at Black Rock Park in the Croton River. Can you tell me what species it is?
- Maha Katnani

[The digital image showed a rather large, adult white sucker (Catostomus commersoni). These are a native species that ascend Hudson River tributaries each spring to spawn in pools and runs above tidewater. The fish in the photo must have presented an ambitious undertaking for the cormorant. Tom Lake.]

2/22 - Bronx, New York City, HRM 15: My Saturday morning birdwalk at the New York Botanical Garden included 22 species, among them thirteen rusty blackbirds.
- Debbie Becker

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