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Hudson River Almanac February 23 - February 28, 2014

OVERVIEW

As February ends, many Hudson Valley bald eagle pairs are beginning to incubate eggs. This is their most stressful time of the year as forage is limited and March can bring some of the most violent and challenging weather of the year.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/24 - Columbia County, HRM 124: In early evening we were driving south on Route 9J when we spotted a large grayish animal crossing the road, headed toward the river. We stopped where the animal had climbed a snow bank and I jumped out to take a look. There he was, looking right at me, a big, healthy, beautiful bobcat. We stared at each other for four long seconds before he turned and headed into the thick underbrush. I got a good look at his handsome face with wise yellow eyes, serious expression, long jowl-hair, cropped tail, those big paws, and a gray tabby coloring. What a treat!
- Christine Kulisek

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

[Note: We would like to amend a sidebar to Lee Banner's 2/20 entry of a young, three-legged, white-tailed deer. We offered some possibilities as to how that condition might have occurred. Among them was having been caught in a leg-hold trap. Subsequently, it has been pointed out to us by a member of the New York State Trappers Association that the correct term is foot-hold trap, and that such a trap is extremely unlikely to have caused the loss of the deer's leg. In addition to legal trapping, foot-hold traps are used by wildlife managers to capture and move animals; they were used extensively for the re-introduction of river otters to areas of New York State with good habitat but no otters. Tom Lake.]

2/23 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: I found my first two rough-legged hawks of the season, many bluebirds, seven horned larks, American tree sparrows, and a snowy owl on a telephone poll on Durkeetown Road. (Another birder reported a second snowy owl nearby on Route 197.)
- Russ Loeber

2/23 - Saratoga County, HRM 195: Sacandaga Lake was frozen but toward the bottom of Fox Hill Road I came upon a yard where wild turkeys were being fed. I counted 42, but suspected many more were in the surrounding woods.
- Russ Loeber

2/23 - Schuylerville, HRM 186: The river was partially open at Hudson Crossing Park with a large ice jam. I counted about 80 common goldeneye that had congregated after riding the rapidly flowing river. The males were very busy displaying by tossing their heads back and plenty of them were calling as well.
- I. Duval

2/23 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: Three black vultures were circling up high today halfway between Cohoes and the Crescent Power facility. Below them, two adult bald eagles were doing an aerial pair-bonding flight, one turning over in midair so they could touch talons.
- Naomi Lloyd

2/23 - Green Island, 153: At midday, one drake redhead duck was among many common goldeneye in the Hudson River at Green Island.
- Deb Ferguson

2/23 - Columbia County, HRM 135: On a swing through Austerlitz today, I watched a common raven carrying large sticks into an enclosed pole barn where I could see a small pile of them on a cross beam. The raven was building a nest. The barn is rarely used and I'm hoping the nesting will be a success.
- Nancy Kern

2/23 - Claverack, HRM 115: I spotted my first killdeer of the year this afternoon. Spring is coming!
- Betty Grindrod

[Killdeer are shorebirds that migrate south each fall. Their return is one of the more dependable signs of impending spring. Tom Lake.

2/23 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 76: Looking out on the golf course greens, now quite white with deep untouched snow, we had another sighting of the "woyote" prancing as best it could over the snow. Twenty-two wild turkeys live and roost in the trees near here, but none were home today. The coyote looked healthy and fluffy-tailed so I'd guess food has been available over this harsh winter. Such a beautiful sight to see this creature.
- Diana Salsberg

["Woyotes"(see 2/3) are eastern coyotes with some gray wolf DNA. Tom Lake.]

2/23 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: A pair of tugboats and oil barges was moving in tandem down the river headed by a Reinauer Transportation Company tug and the RTC80 barge. This was "tugs against tide" and the resulting roller coaster of ice floes had a pair of eagles hopping from one to the next, unwilling to leave and determined to ride it out.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/23 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Both adults flew into eagle nest NY62 in late afternoon. The female left for a spot not far away where she perched near a small stream and began pulling grass (see 2/11). She pulled up a pretty good bundle and then hopped into the water with the grass in her talons. From there she flew back to the nest with the wet grass.
- Terry Hardy

2/23 - Orange County, HRM 57: We headed to Storm King Mountain where wintering golden eagles had been seen within the last few weeks. Sadly, they did not make an appearance for us, but we did have a killdeer.
- Tim Dunn, Pete Morris, John Gluth

2/23 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: In midday I spotted a snowy owl drifting down the river on an ice floe.
- Evan Mark

2/23 - Manhattan, HRM 11: Driving past the George Washington Bridge on Manhattan's West Side, I noted that this reach of the river was well supplied with ice floes, some quite large. When was the last time we had ice floes in New York Harbor? I can't recall but we surely do this year.
- Christopher Letts

2/23 - Manhattan, HRM 4: It was late afternoon when I saw a drake canvasback duck drifting in the river among the ice floes at Riverside Park South and West 63rd Street.
- Alan Drogin

2/24 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: We went off in search of snowy owls and were not disappointed. We spotted one off in the distance on Route 197 outside of Fort Edward and then another one on Durkeetown Road. The latter owl seemed to be enjoying the late afternoon sun while it watched over the fields.
- Terry DeCorah, Mike DeCorah

2/24 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: I usually do not get too excited about bald eagles but I did see nine immatures in a row on the upriver side of the Mohawk across from the Crescent Power Plant this morning. Nine was also the number of redhead ducks that have been seen there lately.
- John Hershey

2/24 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: While we were mending fyke nets for the Hudson River Glass Eel Project, we kept our eyes out for eagles on the still mostly frozen river. We saw two adults fly into view and land close together across the river at eagle nest NY242. Later, as we looked closely with our spotting scope, we saw the female's face as she looked around from a sitting position in the half-hidden nest. Could she have just laid a egg? Before the day was out we counted a dozen eagles, jockeying around for both ice and air space, jostling over fish, and cavorting alternately on foot and wing, back and forth.
- Dave Lindemann, Jim Herrington

2/24: Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: Despite the lingering snow pack, this morning I heard a song sparrow singing. That tells me there is hope that spring is on the way.
- Kathy Kraft

2/24 - Town of Poughkeepsie: There was no activity at eagle nest NY62 so we focused on a red-tailed hawk overhead that was "kiting" in the face of a strong northwest wind, suspended in perfect equilibrium. This is one of the red-tailed hawk pair with a nest nearby. Beginning in April, they will routinely come down the hill and challenge the eagles for primacy over "their" air space.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/24 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: I took some nice photos today of eagles fishing off Steamboat Dock. Several of them clearly showed talons gripping adult gizzard shad as they flew off to feed.
- Liza Margulies

[Gizzard shad, an immigrant to the Hudson, are a winter favorite of bald eagles due to their availability. In the northern extent of their range, they frequently succumb to a phenomenon known as "winter kill." Studies (Jester and Jensen 1972) have shown "high mortality rates at water temperatures below 2.2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit)." Tom Lake.]

2/24 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The snow was thick on the flower beds, and spring flowers seemed a long, long way away on this cold and windy day. A pair of white-throated sparrows had been industriously scratching on the corner of one flower bed and a few leaves were exposed. I had to look closely to see a tiny nodding white flower, the first of the snowdrops, our first spring flower.
- Christopher Letts

2/25 - West Sand Lake, HRM 145: A mixed flock of about 45 red-winged blackbirds and common grackles were calling from the trees in my yard today: "Konk-a-ree!"
- Naomi Lloyd

2/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie: After an afternoon of nest-watching, we were pretty certain that the eagles in NY62 had begun incubating eggs. Midway through our stay we saw a switch-over as the adults changed places.
- Deb Kral, Bob Rightmyer

[While this is an early date for incubation (in the last two years at this nest, incubation began on 2/27 and 2/28) it was not outside the range of variation. If we start the clock today, there could be a hatch between March 28-31 (32-35 days). Tom Lake.]

2/25 - Beacon, HRM 61: Ice can be the great inhibitor to the presence of wildlife and today it stretched halfway across the river from the Beacon waterfront. We counted 40 gulls out on the ice, and as we studied them through binoculars they all took flight. We could not see an eagle but there must have been one. They flew right at us and one of them was a white-winged gull. That one passed right overhead. Field marks! Field marks! Either the gull was too fast or we were too slow but we could not determine if it was an Iceland or a glaucous gull (we guessed the former).
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/25 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: It was snowing at a pretty good clip, the day was dark, visibility was limited, and I had Steamboat Dock all to myself. A slowly moving down-tide was carrying a line of ice floes and setting in close to the dock. I watched for perhaps a half hour, thoroughly enjoying the essential "winter-ness" of the scene. Two dozen eagles drifted by, hunched down, solitary, close enough to reach with a Frisbee. No wild sky show, no roughhousing on the ice. Just passing through.
- Christopher Letts

2/26 - Saratoga County, HRM 182: I finally found the elusive snow buntings after trying for months and only getting close enough to suspect they were there as they flew far away. There were fifteen today in the parking lot of the Saratoga County Airport, feeding in some cleared grass and swooping up on a snow bank with any movement.
- Russ Loeber

2/26 - Delmar, HRM 143: Both black vultures and turkey vultures were soaring over Route 32 as I went by around noon today. The TVs were the first of the season for me.
- Alan Mapes

2/26 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: A chipmunk showed up on my front porch today, looking quite dazed and confused!
- Peter Fanelli

2/26 - Oscawana Point, HRM 39: We spotted eight eagles through the snow and were so engaged that we almost missed a beautiful female hairy woodpecker that was right in front of us, frantically tearing the bark from a tree and dropping the shavings on the ground.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/26 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Chipmunks have sprouted from the white blanket that covers the landscape. Those little rascals look like wind-up toys as they zip over the frozen surface, reconnoitering and reclaiming their feeding territories, and getting ready for spring.
- Robin Fox

2/26 - Queens, New York City: I saw a very large falcon late this afternoon in Fort Tilden. After watching it for nearly five minutes, I identified it as a dark adult (phase) gyrfalcon.
- Joseph O'Sullivan

2/27 - Fishkill, HRM 61: I watched a gray squirrel this morning scamper across the snow-covered yard, carrying nesting materials in its mouth. It proceeded high up into a white pine where there once was a crow's nest. It was either refurbishing that nest or creating a new one for itself. It then returned to the ground and scampered to the backyard where it appeared it was removing bark from a red cedar for use in its nest. These forays continued for about a half-hour.
- Ed Spaeth

2/27 - Iona Island, HRM 45.5: As our Metro North train slowed to negotiate the turns just beyond Anthony's Nose, I had a fairly good look at a seal hauled out on the ice midway across the river. It had a light brownish-tan coat and my best guess was harp seal.
- Tom Lake

[As its Latin name - Phoca groenlandica - suggests, the harp seal is a creature of boreal waters, arctic seas, and ice floes. They are uncommon in the New York Bight and primarily come as the result of orphan pups. Like the gray seal, and the more temperate harbor seal, their presence in our area may also be the result of increased northern populations. Most sightings in the estuary occur at the end of winter (late February and early March). The most recent were in 2010, first at Bowline Point (river mile 37), and then nine days later at Kingston (river mile 92) - possibly the same seal. Tom Lake.]

2/27 - Croton River, HRM 34: Six tree swallows were watched for more than a half-hour this morning at Black Rock Park, swooping over the same small area of the Croton River. Perhaps getting an early aquatic insect hatch of some sort? But it seems rather early for that, and for the swallows.
- Anne Swaim

2/28 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: In late afternoon I counted nine redhead ducks (eight drakes) in the vicinity of the Crescent Power facility, as well as ten mixed scaup and, as a bit of a surprise, three red-breasted mergansers (one drake, two hens).
- Ron Harrower

2/28 - North Germantown, HRM 109: I photographed an adult bald eagle near the DEC boat launch at North Germantown. It had a blue leg band number R70. Out on the ice, a short distance upriver, several more eagles were feasting on a carcass, probably a white-tailed deer.
- Elisa Shaw

[This bald eagle with a blue leg band number R70 will be eight years old in a few weeks. She was born in 2006 in a nest in Delaware County (a female, one of three nestlings) about 15 miles southwest of Oneonta. Glenn Hewitt.]

2/28 - New Paltz, HRM 78: We saw a sign of spring this morning: a male cardinal on our platform feeder picked up a seed and gave it to a female cardinal. She took it. Then she flew to a nearby branch. He picked up another seed, flew over, and gave it to her. Then they perched together for a while in the bright morning sun.
- Lynn and Allan Bowdery

2/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Overnight, the air temperature fell to zero degrees Fahrenheit and, with a stiff breeze, the wind-chill felt like -15. With the river frozen over, sustenance must be limited. Yet the eagles in NY62 need to "stoke the furnace" all night long to create the body heat necessary to keep their eggs warm. We have seen periodic switch-overs when one adult takes over for the other, and they fly away to forage and hunt. All feeding must be done outside the nest until a hatch occurs, to avoid luring egg-predators such as raccoons.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

2/28 - Verplanck, RM 40.5: Just as we were pulling up to the overlook, an immature eagle landed in the "ghost tree" behind us. His beak was a faint yellow and his head and tail a dirty white wash - on the cusp of maturity. Minutes later, an adult landed in the same tree and began to chortle on and on to its neighbor.
- Dianne Picciano, Kay Martens

[This tree, an oak that stands to the rear of those viewing the river in Verplanck, has for a decade or more provided such "ghost bird" sightings. We become so intent on watching the river that an eagle will slip into the tree behind us, not a hundred feet away, and then seem to magically appear when someone turns to look. Tom Lake]

2/28 - Crugers, HRM 38.5: The great blue heron that usually hangs out at Ogilvie's Pond was standing on the shore of our neighbor's small pond today. What made this sighting extra special was the addition of a pair of beautiful hooded mergansers swimming past and a female kingfisher perched on one of the trees over the pond.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/28 - Hudson River Watershed: Bird feeders can be a safe and enjoyable way to watch birds from the comfort of one's home, but under the right circumstances feeders can also be a place where disease spreads very quickly between birds because of their close contact with each other. We can help curtail the spread of disease in songbirds by emptying and cleaning feeders and bird baths with hot soapy water at least every two weeks. It is also a good idea to soak feeders in a dilute 10 percent bleach solution and allow them to dry before re-hanging them. Waste seed on the ground beneath feeders should be cleaned up and discarded. Spreading feeders out and relocating feeders periodically can also limit the build-up of waste. Practice good hygiene when cleaning feeders and bird baths by wearing gloves to handle seed waste and washing hands after performing maintenance.
- NYSDEC

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