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Hudson River Almanac March 1 - March 6, 2014

OVERVIEW

Ice boating was back on the Hudson River this week as a result of our extremely cold and snowy winter, and the efforts of experienced and energetic ice boaters.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/6 - Astor Point, HRM 97: In mid-afternoon we were sailing my iceboat Boreas off Astor Point where the iceboat fleet is now located. In the middle of the river we flushed a snowy owl that was sitting on the ice. It flew a few hundred feet and then landed on a snow hummock right in the middle of the river, where it walked about fifteen feet to stand near a small log imbedded in the ice. Four boats were in the area and sailing by in medium-light winds. The owl blended in perfectly with the grayish snow and ice and sat there while the boats passed within 50-60 feet of it, probably unaware of its presence. I took four passes with passengers aboard, keeping a respectable distance. The owl rotated around as boats went by, keeping an eye on them, but did not seem agitated. After a half-hour of this, the owl lifted off and flew southwest, crossing the channel and settling on the ice near the west side, safe from the iceboats.
- Steve Schwartz, Sarah Underhill

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

Occasionally we must back up a bit to capture one or more important entries from a previous week; such is the case for this first Almanac of March.

2/24 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The past two days were a welcome respite from the cold temperatures we have had in February. We saw the mercury hit 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm sure those two lovely days resulted in the two European starlings that arrived at my bird feeder this morning. With temperatures back at 20 degrees F today, I bet they are regretting their reconnaissance mission to the north. There are only fourteen inches of snow on the ground, but it has a hard crust - not hard enough to walk on but certainly an impediment to grouse that want to snow roost and small mammals trying to gain access to the subnivian [the thin layer of air between the snow pack and the ground/vegetation] environment. Despite the cold, I am hearing chickadees give their mating "phoebe" call. Spring can't be too far behind.
- Charlotte Demers

2/24 - Glasco, HRM 100: Looking across the Hudson to Magdalen Island, I saw a large dark shape out on the ice. It moved and I thought "bald eagle" fishing in the open channel. Then the fur on my dog Nina's back ridged as she sensed something else. It was a coyote running full-tilt northward along the edge of the island. We watched through binoculars for an hour as it raced north, then south, probably seeking a way across. With luck the coyote reached the eastern shore. I wonder if the increase in river traffic - oil tankers, tugs, and barges - makes it harder for the wildlife that cross the river?
- Betty Boomer

2/24 - Highland Falls, HRM 47: We live on the river just below Con Hook Marsh. As I drove into our driveway today, I was startled by a very large bird flying away. The spot the bird had left was littered with feathers, wings, and legs - the remains of an immature Cooper's hawk. While we could not tell how the hawk died, we are pretty certain that the scavenger was an immature bald eagle.
- Nancy Judd

3/1- Stillwater, HRM 171.5: We came upon a male Barrow's goldeneye among many common goldeneye at Blockhouse Park in Stillwater. It was near the far shore, directly across from the park. There was also a male red-breasted merganser.
- John Kent, Scott Stoner (Hudson Mohawk Bird Club)

3/1 - Mohawk River, HRM 157: We counted four red-breasted mergansers, three drakes and a hen, this morning at the Crescent Power Plant near Cohoes. The redhead ducks and greater scaup continue on as well.
- Tom Williams (HMBC)

3/1 - Dutchess County, HRM 96.5: It was a historic day and conditions were perfect for ice-boating once again on the Hudson River. At least 50 iceboats, from the antique to very modern, had gathered at the shoreline of Rokeby Farm to put up their sails and try out the frozen reaches of the Hudson. Steve Schwartz gave me a thrilling ride on his boat, Boreas. Afterwards, I walked across the frozen river to get closer to a tanker barge being pushed slowly down the western side by two tugs, through a very narrow channel of open water. People set up chairs and stoves on the ice, and dogs were having a great time chasing each other around the boats and equipment.
- Susan Rich

[The old adage goes, "Early season snows bring late season ice boating." The possibility of ice formation begins with water temperatures lowered to near freezing by early season snows. After the water temperature is very close to freezing, sub-zero temperatures are required to build at least a two-inch thickness of ice between tide cycles. At this thickness, the ice is sometimes (without a strong wind) able to resist tidal forces and lock onto the shore.
According to another old adage, "Temperatures below 10 degrees F will build an inch of ice a night." So we were in luck; perfect conditions in January resulted in six inches of beautiful black ice, the strongest, due to lack of air entrainment.
The early beautiful ice did not last, however. Storms and high winds from the west broke up the ice and piled it in hummocks, impossible to sail on, locked in place by subsequent cold. Warm weather eliminated some of this, and then it snowed. And snowed. The weight of the snow was sufficient to "sink" the ice sheet. Flooded from below, the snow quickly turned to more ice and with cold temperatures, this added to the original thickness. The rough ice eventually submerged into the newly formed "snow ice," nearly as smooth as the original black ice. With these conditions, perfect sailing was to be had on near-perfect ice. Robert Wills.]

3/1 - Rhinecliff, HRM 92: Off Rhinecliff dock this morning, I watched a flock of more than 50 common mergansers, swimming in an open area of water among the ice floes. Another larger flock of dark-colored birds that I could not identify was farther out.
- Susan Rich

3/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Incubation Day 5 at eagle nest NY62. The female arrived back in the nest in midday to relieve the male from incubation duty. Mom settled down to resume her shift.
- Terry Hardy, Tom McDowell

[The adult eagles share incubation duties with the female covering the eggs about 18 of the 24 hours in a day. This ratio is not fixed and variations are common. In times of stressful weather, the female will tough it out. The air temperature dropped to 0 degrees F overnight, a record low for the date. Tom Lake.]

3/1 - Milan HRM 90: I watched from my kitchen table as a squirrel took, one-by-one, the buds off my rhododendrons outside the window. Our deer fence is not much use against them.
- Marty Otter

3/1 - Town of Montgomery, HRM 62: The last week of February gave me hope that winter was losing its grip. Two bluebirds visited my feeders (very unusual), I smelled a skunk, and a beaver has been going back and forth in a lowland wooded area just beyond my back yard.
- Pat Offerman

3/2 - Saratoga County, HRM 195: In the month that just ended, I had two male bluebirds - at Edinburg on the Great Sacandaga Lake - on branches of my maple tree. This was the earliest I have seen a bluebird in twenty years of maintaining my nine bluebird boxes on two separate ten-acre fields. We also had a snowy owl earlier this winter on the shore of the Great Sacandaga Lake.
- Curtis Mills

3/2 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: I spent some time today looking for the Barrow's goldeneye, without luck but, as a consolation, I had two drake canvasbacks and two Iceland gulls from Admiral's Marina.
- John Hershey (HMBC)

3/2 - Saratoga County, HRM 171: I found the male canvasbacks John Hershey reported just upriver of the Route 125 bridge. There was also a red-necked grebe feeding close to shore, among greater scaup, ring-necked ducks, common goldeneye, and several pairs of hooded mergansers.
- Gregg Recer (HMBC)

3/2 - Delmar, HRM 143: This morning at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, we had three purple finches and 23 cedar waxwings feeding on crabapples in the orchard behind the Goose Lodge. We also had two "croaking" ravens flying over as well.
- Tom Williams (HMBC)

3/2 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 82: I heard a red-winged blackbird calling in the swamp today - a nice harbinger of spring despite the snow cover.
- Kathy Kraft

3/2 - Pine Bush, HRM 65: I took a picturesque walk today over the Blue and Red trails at the Pine Bush Great Dune. Highlights included a brown creeper traveling around low on the snowy forest floor and two golden-crowned kinglets. What a place to spend a sunny day with tall trees blocking the wind and the sun beating down on the trail!
- Deb Ferguson

3/2 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: I had my first long-tailed duck on the river side of Westchester County in quite a few years. At least 50 bald eagles were perched, soaring, and riding the ice floes within a couple of miles of here.
- Larry Trachtenberg

3/2 - Croton River, HRM 34: I stopped by the mouth of the Croton River at low tide and there was a gorgeous drake green-winged teal - my first of the season - in the rivulet behind the train station.
- Larry Trachtenberg

3/2 - Croton Bay, HRM 34: I counted twenty immature bald eagles on the low tide sandbars. Many were feeding on striped bass and white perch, as were many gulls.
- Tom McDowell

3/3 - Palenville, HRM 111: I usually do not post entries about the regular feeder birds, but yesterday and today we have had ten purple finches at our feeders: eight females and two juvenile males. Through the winter we've had a maximum of only two.
- Larry Federman

[An experienced birder, Larry points out that purple finches and house finches can easily be confused. The red coloration of male house finches tends to be concentrated on the crown and breast. Male purple finches are usually raspberry red, with the color extending over more of the body. Steve Stanne.]

3/3 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: The three Mid-Hudson Valley bald eagle nests that I keep tabs on (NY142, NY143, NY261) were all incubating eggs. The start dates ranged from 2/24 to 3/1.
- Dave Lindemann

3/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The "changing of the guard" for the adults in bald eagle nest NY62 seems to have settled into a first light, mid-morning, and mid-afternoon schedule. The male, who had relieved the female at first light, was replaced by the female after a break of about four hours.
- Tom McDowell

[As each adult is relieved, they head river-ward to hunt and forage. This 32-35 day incubating activity period requires enormous energy. Tom Lake.]

3/3 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: On the ebb tide today, the "polar ice cap" that had held Rabbit Island in its grip for nearly two months relaxed its hold on the land and floated silently toward Manhattan. An intact ice sheet acres in size and a foot thick in many spots became just another floating passenger now governed by the inexorable pull of the tide. The moment of separation was a majestic spectacle which we watched in awe. No sooner had the ice departed than we were visited by a flotilla of ducks, a dozen common mergansers intermingled with a pair of wood ducks, the female with her distinctive white eye ring and the male in gorgeous iridescent headgear. They paddled serenely around the edge of the island for a long time before leaving to explore the newly opened expanse of water. It's been a tough winter but this sighting was a boost for our morale.
- David Cullen

3/3 - Goshen, HRM 52: Throughout most of the morning, four blue jays took turns attacking the backyard feeder, scattering the sparrows and a starling that returned to the feeder when the jays took a break. However, nothing could keep away the cardinals that have been feeding there all winter.
- John M. Zahradnik

3/3 - Manhattan, HRM 4.5: I went along the Hudson at Riverside Park South late in the day and found a female common goldeneye and a female red-breasted merganser very close to the shore. In the park there was a modest number of robins, common grackles, and at least one brown-headed cowbird, but only a very few red-winged blackbirds. I was checking the area to see if the single canvasback was still around (was not). While common goldeneye is not rare around Manhattan, neither is it really common. Red-breasted mergansers are far more regular.
- Tom Fiore

3/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We were back to sub-zero overnight temperatures. There has been no sign of the two European starlings that attempted to get a head start on migration last week. But the new bird at the feeder is the evening grosbeak. A flock of about fifteen descended on the feeders this morning. I had received reports of others hearing them locally in the forest but this was my first observation of them this season. Another welcomed sign of the season: a co-worker saw an eastern chipmunk out and about on the surface of the snow yesterday. Male chipmunks are usually the first to arouse in the spring, but this was likely a foray to augment the food cache to stretch it out for these last few winter weeks.
- Charlotte Demers

[The High Peaks, Newcomb in particular, often vibrate with the loud, clear calls of evening grosbeaks as they congregate in the conifers by the score, even hundreds. In his field guide, Roger Tory Peterson called it a "ringing finch-like chirp" that echoes in the cold, still air - unmistakable and nearly unending. Tom Lake.]

3/4 - Hoosick River, HRM 172: I went to check out the open water in the Hoosick, a Hudson River tributary in Washington County. Among the many mallards and black ducks, I came upon a drake and two female northern pintails. A half-dozen goldeneye were nearby. I usually find that the goldeneye stick to the Hudson in that general area.
- David Disiena (HMBC)

3/4 - Schuylerville, HRM 186: I visited Hudson Crossing Park this morning and spotted a female Barrow's goldeneye hanging out with a female common goldeneye. Other birds on the river included common mergansers, bufflehead, and Canada geese.
- Jim Ries (HMBC)

3/4 - Selkirk, HRM 135: Out at the woodshed this morning it was two degrees below zero. At 5:45, the sun wasn't up yet, but the sky was brightening. Then I heard "Taweeeet, taweeeet, chirp chirp chirp." I wasn't the only one up and out in the cold. [This cardinal's version of "birdie, birdie, birdie?"]
- Roberta Jeracka

3/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The overnight air temperature had fallen to 4 degrees F, and even by mid-afternoon, the extreme chill was still in the air. Two dozen students from the Ulster/Dutchess Home-Schooled Girl Scouts were at the Maple Sugar Shack at Bowdoin Park for a demonstration. All the while, for more than a half-hour, an adult bald eagle perched directly overhead, only 60 feet up in a tulip tree, totally at ease with the chatter and enthusiasm of the children.
- Debbie Sheehy, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[After a couple of decades of noting bald eagle behavior, in all seasons, we have come to the conclusion that they are extremely good judges of human character. As evidenced by the schoolchildren in the entry above, even with parents present, the eagle was at ease. I have seen noisy hikers pass directly under an eagle perched low enough to hear their breathing, and show no concern. Then I have witnessed eagles at a distance take flight in a tizzy when some people just look their way. While we may appear harmless and non-threatening to one another, could it be that eagles have some insight into our psyches? Tom Lake.]

3/6 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Thoughts of spring have been frozen out of my mind and body. It was clear blue skies and absolutely beautiful outside this morning, or at least it looked that way from my window with a warm cup of coffee in my hand. Please send us cherry blossoms, robins, and spring peepers!
- Charlotte Demers

3/6 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: The Thursday Morning Birding Group was able to find the drake Barrow's goldeneye this morning from Block House Park in Stillwater. Several hundred goldeneyes in the river had been concentrated by a threatening bald eagle, making it easier to find the Barrow's.
- John Hershey (HMBC)

3/6 - Storm King, HRM 57: In early afternoon, we watched a wintering adult golden eagle at Storm King Mountain. We had missed the bird twice before, both times much earlier in the day. Today the eagle came in and landed about 1:30 p.m., this after we had learned that others had not seen it until later in the day. Also, while we only saw one bird, we have heard that there are two wintering there.
- Eric Miller, Lisa Scheppke, Gary Straus, Arie Gilbert

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