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Hudson River Almanac March 7 - March 13, 2014

OVERVIEW

As the change of season nears, our natural history entries continue to be dominated by birds since they are the most easily observed as their spring migration ramps up. The river is becoming less ice-bound and the open reaches are luring eagles and waterfowl northward toward their breeding areas.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/7 - Warren County, HRM 237: I frequently cross-country ski on Cronin's Golf Course in Warrensburg; it has great views of the now-frozen Hudson River. In late morning I heard what sounded like a growl or yelp coming from the river. It turned out to be four red foxes, scurrying to the south across the frozen river. I've occasionally seen individuals, but never a "pack."
- Eric Krantz

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

Early March, HRM 2: In the snowy Hudson Valley landscape, flower blossoms have been scarce to date. But each year in the lower Hudson estuary, at the end of February and beginning of March, there is a bloom of phytoplankton - a rapid increase in the population of microscopic, single-celled, plant-like photosynthetic organisms. This is happening there right now, and some of the species are shown in the accompanying photomicrograph. These are various species of diatom, the dominant type of phytoplankton here in the winter. The cells form tiny cases made of glass, which often have striking designs, and some of which hook together to form long chains. Diatoms are an extremely successful group world-wide, and have tended to dominate the marine phytoplankton since the time of the dinosaurs. They are eaten by many species of tiny crustaceans and larval stages of larger animals, which form the zooplankton.
- Michael Levandowsky, Pace University and The River Project

3/7 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: I spotted the previously reported drake Barrow's goldeneye this afternoon, and also saw a female goldeneye with more yellow on the bill than the other females. A hen Barrow's?
- Jim de Waal Malefyt (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

3/7 - Albany, HRM 145: I stopped to scan for snowy owls at the Albany International Airport. I found no owls but was treated to a great sight of five northern harriers (two males; three females or immatures) at once. They were soaring and hovering very close to the fence area on Sicker Road near the control tower.
- Mike Cavanaugh (HMBC)

3/7 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: A single turkey vulture sailed through New Baltimore this afternoon. TVs are one of our early spring migrants. Bring 'em on.
- Richard Guthrie (HMBC)

3/7 - Kowawese, HRM 59: We labored over the snow to reach the river for a midday low tide. The shallows were frozen solid as we walked on the ice. Despite no sign of movement, we could hear slight murmurs beneath our feet as, down deep, the ice shifted. We realized that there was some moving water several feet below. We came to hear the ice sing its amazing winter ballad - the groans, rumbles, growls and "whale song" babbles that come with a melt. But we had to settle for a subtle tune. Charlotte Demers, from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, likes to say that the sounds that lakes, ponds, and rivers emit during ice formation and ice-out make them seem like living beings.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

Hudson River Music - a poem inspired at Kowawese, HRM 59:
Music,
The ice breaking,
A beautiful floe song.
A symphony of ice, playing
Music.
- Christopher Doerrer

3/7 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: Canada geese were making a good deal of noise on the Inwood Hill Park inlet while a turkey vulture circled above the ridge. The path up through The Clove was still covered with packed snow. A ways up I came upon at least three pairs of cardinals, a blue jay, a couple of tufted titmice, one or two white-breasted nuthatches, two red-bellied woodpeckers (both males), a few mourning doves, and the first house sparrows I've seen this season.
- Thomas Shoesmith

3/7 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: With two other birders, I saw the very striking partially-leucistic canvasback at Inwood Hill Park. There were also a couple more of that species in standard plumage, plus the also-striking drake white-winged scoter, three greater scaup, and a red-breasted merganser.
- Tom Fiore

[Leucism is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird's feathers. As a result, the birds do not have the normal plumage colors listed in field guides. Plumage color changes may include: white patches where there should not be any; paler overall plumage that looks faint, diluted or bleached; or overall white plumage with little or no color discernable. Leucism affects only the bird's feathers, and typically only those with melanin pigment - usually dark feathers. Birding.about.com.]

3/7 - Manhattan, HRM 10: I found a red-necked grebe (in basic winter plumage) very close to the Hudson's shore at about West 168 Street, Riverside Park. I watched the grebe for many minutes as it fed and swam among scattered ice floes, as well as out in more open water.
- Tom Fiore

3/8 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: I couldn't find the Barrow's goldeneye this morning but did find three red-necked grebes.
- John Hershey (HMBC)

3/8 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: After an hour of close "goldeneye scrutiny," I finally found the drake Barrow's goldeneye. I think I could start a whole new dance craze based on goldeneye courtship moves.
- Ron Harrower (HMBC)

3/8 - Rensselaer County: In a stiff wind and single digit temperatures we watched an adult bald eagle sitting in an old nest just north of Castleton-on-Hudson. We could see a moving white head on the nest while looking through binoculars. Another adult flew in, landed at the nest, and immediately the first one left, flying down river. It was the changing of the guard for incubating eagles and a magnificent sight!
- Liz Strickler, Frank Strickler

3/8 - Dutchess County, HRM 100: While driving to Bard College I saw people photographing a large pine tree on Route 9G. I looked up and saw a big white head; it was a beautiful adult bald eagle perched on a branch and ripping apart some prey. I pulled over to gaze at it for a few minutes; many others did the same. It was incredible how the eagle seemed to dwarf the pine, even though the tree was 40 feet tall.
- Libby Murphy

3/8 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A long-awaited, sunny and mild mid-afternoon drew several birders to Norrie Point. We were rewarded with a view of one adult and two immature bald eagles on small "icebergs" near the open channel. The most unusual sighting was a cross-country skier on the river, followed by an enthusiastic dog. I've seen ice boats on the river in recent years but this was my first skier.
- Pat Joel

3/8 - Croton Reservoir, HRM 34: We watched an awesome display as an immature bald eagle hunted ducks, repeatedly stooping on a large congregation of mergansers and mallards with no success. They scattered, dove, and generally emphasized the eagle's apparent inexperience. For the ducks, safety in numbers meant confusing the eagle.
- Kyle Bardwell, Larry Christine

3/8 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: The drake white-winged scoter was still present in the ship canal at the north end of Inwood Hill Park this morning. Also present were thirteen canvasbacks, including the leucistic drake, three female greater scaup, and two female red-breasted mergansers.
- Joe DiCostanzo

3/9 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: At the Fort Edward Grasslands on Fitzpatrick Road we got fantastic views of a single short-eared owl at close range this evening. We watched the owl swoop down and grab a mouse next to a house and within a foot of the foundation.
- Scott Varney, Brett Varney (HMBC)

3/9 - Washington County, HRM 192.5: There was a gorgeous pair of Barrow's goldeneyes on the Hudson River today [our Stillwater pair?] at Fort Miller. Also present were greater scaup, a female red-breasted merganser, and a drake wood duck.
- Will Raup (HMBC)

3/9 - Delmar, HRM 143: In early afternoon I counted forty-plus cedar waxwings in the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center orchard.
- Barb Beebe (HMBC)

[Later in the afternoon the cedar waxwing numbers had increased to at least 50; they were in the fruit trees in the apple orchard along with a dozen robins. Scott Stoner (HMBC).]

3/9 - Coeymans Hollow, HRM 133.5: At frozen-over Stanton Pond I watched a pair of adult peregrine falcons busily terrorizing rock pigeons. They also dove on an American robin that was a bit too casual about taking cover at the far edge of the pond. The robin barely escaped.
- Tom Williams (HMBC)

3/9 - Storm King Mountain, HRM 57: We watched a wintering golden eagle from the overlook at Route 9W. From out near the river the eagle flew in and landed on a snag, where it stayed.
- Anders Peltomaa, Richard Fried

3/9 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: After the long winter, the red-headed woodpecker was still with us at Croton Point. It is a beautiful-looking bird and its colors seem to be getting deeper now.
- Jeff Seneca

3/10 - Albany County, HRM 146: I was checking out a female purple finch on our feeder in Slingerlands when an adult accipiter [bird hawk] appeared from nowhere and struck one of the mourning doves that was foraging in the snow. It looked like the hawk had pinned the dove when the bird suddenly gave a heave, tossed the hawk off, and fled around the corner of the house with the hawk in pursuit twenty feet behind. A few of the dove's feathers (including some tail feathers) were left scattered on the snow. The whole event took just seconds.
- David Martin (HMBC)

[This mourning dove would have been a good candidate for natural selection to pass on those feisty genes. Tom Lake.]

3/10 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: While participating in the NYS DEC winter raptor survey in the Coxsackie grasslands this evening, I saw two short-eared owls from Flint Mine Road near Route 9W. They came out between 7:07 and 7:10 p.m., and foraged over the fields south of the road for a little over ten minutes before departing.
- John Kent (HMBC)

[If you're birding in that area, be advised that there have been a couple of northern harriers marked on the primaries of the right wing with pink dye. If you see one of those, please note the time and location and notify Paul Novak at NYS DEC.]

3/10 - Croton River, HRM 34: Each winter when the ice and snow start to break up, I notice "dunce caps" floating on the Croton River. It delights me when they right themselves to become elegant white swans that have been feeding - head and beak down - in the dark, cold, rushing river.
- Robin Fox

3/11 - Schenectady County, HRM 167: I enjoyed watching a pair of bluebirds coming and going from my back deck's railing in Glenville. Yesterday I had my first red-winged blackbird and today my first common grackle and brown-headed cowbirds (three) of the season.
- Alan French (HMBC)

3/11- Town of Stuyvesant, HRM 127: I counted 37 species of birds today, among them: 50 Canada geese feeding in corn fields on Route 21, four killdeer, eight red-winged blackbirds, an eastern meadowlark at the Gibson Farm along Route 21, and four rusty blackbirds.
- Nancy Kern (HMBC)

3/11 - Ghent, Columbia County, HRM 122: I had my first killdeer of the year calling and flying overhead at Hawthorne Valley Farm today. It felt great!
- Chad Witko (HMBC)

3/11 - Oscawana, HRM 38.5: On a spring-like day, the river around Oscawana Point was calm and silvery. However, the trees that were laden last week with six or seven bald eagles were empty today. We wondered if our wintering eagles had already gone north. Five miles upriver, however, we found five eagles on ice floes drifting river-ward out of Annsville Creek.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

3/12 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Ahead of a winter storm, there was a new bird species for me this morning: three female horned larks were perched atop a snow bank in the front yard. They are not a common winter sight in Newcomb as they prefer barren ground.
- Charlotte Demers

3/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day sixteen. Over the last five days the adults in eagle nest NY62 have faithfully shared incubation duties. I have witnessed their switch-over during late morning on most days. While off the nest the adults tend to remain nearby, perched or - if winds accommodate - kiting over the area.
- Tom McDowell

3/12 - Brockway, HRM 62.7: At this time of year one might expect the salt front - the leading edge of dilute seawater entering the estuary - to be further south, as increasing volumes of fresh water from melting snow and ice enter the Hudson and push seawater downriver. But with temperatures below freezing over the Hudson's watershed for most of February and early March, and precipitation falling mainly as snow, the spring thaw had yet to occur. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the salt front reached this point just north of the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge today.
- Steve Stanne

3/13 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The last storm of the season (maybe) brought us 11.3 inches of snow, our largest snowfall of the season. The resulting 26 inches on the ground was also the highest total we have seen this winter. Yet, we are still well behind our average seasonal snowfall.
- Charlotte Demers

3/13 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5: Going through a few pictures taken just before dusk of some ducks coming in for a landing, one looked very likely to be another male Barrow's goldeneye. Before these recent sightings and postings, we did not realize how special the Barrow's sightings were. It seemed like the number of common goldeneyes was down until right before we left at sunset; then group after group flew in until there were hundreds on the river.
- Pat Newman, Bill Newman (HMBC)

[That's a pattern we've monitored and rely on as we do this segment of the Troy Christmas Bird Count. We schedule the end of the day to coincide with the evening fly-in by ducks and geese. Then it's a race with darkness to ID and count them all. Rich Guthrie (HMBC).]

3/13 - Milan, HRM 90: A large flock of blackbirds, red-wings mostly, descended on my feeders. Among them was a white bird. It was entirely white with a brownish face. Its bill was smaller and somewhat down-curved.
- Marty Otter

[The consensus of opinion is that this was a partial-leucistic blackbird. The beak may have been a deformity. Larry Federman, Rich Guthrie.]

3/13 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I was putting sunflower seed on a picnic table for squirrels and birds when I heard and then saw a beautiful pileated woodpecker on a dead tree in the yard next to mine. The backyard drops off steeply, so I was actually looking down at the woodpecker as he hammered his way up the tree. I hope he stays around so I can watch him feed again.
- Salley Decker

3/13 - New Windsor, HRM 60: I noticed snowdrops pushing up through the snow in my yard on a very frigid day. They are tiny, but determined. There's hope for spring.
- Joanne Zipay

3/13 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Charlie Roberto counted seventeen tree swallows, buzzing like bees, at the entrance to Croton Point. He saw at least four go into nest boxes.
- Larry Trachtenberg

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