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Hudson River Almanac March 14 - March 20, 2014

OVERVIEW

With this issue, on the first day of spring, we concluded the twentieth year of the Hudson River Almanac. The focus this week moved from the air to the uplands to the river, with coyotes, fish, and a seal.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

3/20 - Croton Point, HRM 35: By far the highlight in a brief stop at Croton Point this morning was a seal dining on a fish not far offshore, popping up and down and drifting toward the rocky northwest point.
- Larry Trachtenberg

[Larry was unable to ascertain enough field marks to make a positive identification, but a cell phone image showed a fully dark head leading us to believe that it was a harbor seal. Seals, in particular harbor seals, tend to show up in the estuary from late winter through late spring, coinciding with the river herring spawning run. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

3/14 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: A male northern harrier that DEC personnel had marked with pink dye was spotted on 3/10 in Coxsackie during the winter raptor survey. The next night, 3/11, DEC surveyed in Fort Edward and saw the same harrier. That's a movement of about 78 miles in one day.
- John Kent (Hudson Mohawk Bird Club)

3/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I thought I had seen the first snake of the season, a brief look at a small garter snake before it disappeared into the leaf litter, until Krista Munger told me she had seen a snake three days earlier.
- Tom Lake

[3/11 - Red Hook, HRM 96.5: Temperatures reached 50 degrees Fahrenheit, yet I was totally surprised to find a 30 inch long milk snake basking on the front stoop this evening. It tried to shy away and moved a few feet staying on the warm concrete as the sun set. As the air temperature plummeted, I threw a towel over the snake and left it for the night. The next day it was gone. Krista Munger.]

3/14 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: This interminable winter has us eagerly scanning the landscape for signs of a new season. Fox sparrows, scratching among purple crocus that only yesterday pushed through snow and sodden leaves, was tops for today on the Good News List.
- Christopher Letts

3/14 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: A large, healthy-looking German shepherd-sized canine loped through the woods at the edge of my yard. It was the tan-and-gray of a coyote, but too big to be one. It made its way over a rock wall to the road and disappeared down the slope to the Croton Reservoir. I caught glimpses of it running across the frozen expanse. I hope it made the other side safely as the reservoir was beginning to thaw in places. It was probably the same critter that made larger-than-coyote prints all around my back door each fresh snowfall. I was always armed with my guide to animal tracks but never made a satisfying identification.
- Robin Fox

[Identifying animal tracks in snow, unless they are extremely fresh, can be very tricky. The walls of the print tend to move, melt, or crumble, generally increasing in size. This description sounds like a healthy eastern coyote ("Woyote"). Tom Lake.]

3/15 - Stillwater, HRM 171.5. This afternoon we witnessed a pair of very white, black-billed tundra swans on the river. They were beautiful flying in for a landing. At first we thought they must be snow geese. In the water the pair held their necks up long and straight.
- Pat Newman, Bill Newman (HMBC)

[Tundra swans are often called America's native swan. Their common name refers to their summer nesting range north of Hudson Bay in the Arctic tundra. They can usually be heard calling long before they are seen, which leads to another frequently used colloquial name, whistling swan. In his widely-used field guides, David Sibley remarks that distant flocks sound like "baying hounds." Tundra swans are occasional visitors to the Hudson Valley during spring and fall migrations. Tom Lake.]

3/15 - Dutchess County, HRM 96: My little dog and I traveled our usual haunts in search of "nature" for a photo-a-day challenge. We made our way to The Fly, a wetland just north of Pine Plains, and spotted a male belted kingfisher with a redfin pickerel in its bill. There were at least 600-800 Canada geese there, with more streaming in.
- Debi Kral

3/15 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Spring seemed to be in full swing despite the heavy snow cover. I heard several woodcock calling and flying just before dusk.
- Roland Bahret

3/15 - Town of Poughkeepsie: An immature bald eagle made an unexpected, and apparently uninvited, visit to NY62 today landing in the nest and creating quite a stir. The adult male, incubating, made a huge racket until the youngster flew out.
- Bob Rightmyer

[Immature eagles, especially yearlings, remember and tend to associate a busy nest with "free food" It is possible that this immature was from last year's fledge. Tom Lake.]

3/15 - Furnace Creek, HRM 38.5: This is the time we generally see hooded mergansers moving through, mostly on small ponds and sloughs along the Hudson. However, those are solidly iced up this year. The six pairs that I spotted this morning were on moving water, the males a striking sight in bright patterns and with crests erect.
- Christopher Letts

3/15 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Charlie Roberto led nineteen participants on a woodcock walk this evening. All got to see three woodcock including one very cooperative bird.
- Larry Trachtenberg

3/16 - Northumberland, HRM 171.5: On the river today I counted a drake canvasback, two drake redhead ducks, 26 greater scaup, four lesser scaup, 35 ring-necked ducks, three buffleheads, and many common goldeneyes and common mergansers. As one of my elementary students might say, this was "the best birding day ever!"
- Ron Harrower (HMBC)

3/16 - Orange County, HRM 41: Birding the Pine Island-Black Dirt area, we managed to find four snowy owls with a probable fifth. Goose numbers had increased ten-fold in the past few days and, while sifting through one flock, I located six greater white-fronted geese.
- Curt McDermott, Matt Zeitler

[Greater white-fronted geese breed in the Arctic and winter in Texas, California and Mexico with a few wandering to the eastern US. While uncommon, a few show up in our area most winters. Barbara Butler.]

3/16 - Haverstraw Bay-Tappan Zee, HRM 36-34: It was only yesterday that I counted 33 eagles, most singly and in small groups, riding the ice floes out in the tide. Today, a cold front and the accompanying northerlies delivered a different aspect. The wind had pushed the ice floes onto the lee shore where some eagles were gathered. Most were soaring, playing, and cavorting in the northerly gusts. To have this much ice at this season 50 years ago was not unusual, but bald eagles were a rare sight in those times. We feel like we are enjoying a look into the past this March - eagles by the score on an abundantly-iced estuary.
- Christopher Letts

3/16 - Staten Island, New York City: Some very good waterfowl was seen today at Arbutus Pond. Anthony Ciancimino found a pair of tundra swans and Seth Wollney found a greater white-fronted goose on the pond with a flock of Canada Geese.
- Isaac Grant

3/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 21. The adults in eagle nest NY62 continue to participate in their incubation duties and switch-overs like clockwork. In the last two days, an uninvited adult and two immatures have either visited the nest or perched close by.
- Tom McDowell

[It is not uncommon to see an unattached adult eagle, usually a male, make a fly-by of an occupied nest. Their intentions are not clear. If their mate has been lost they might be drawn by there by familiar activity; or they might simply be looking to supplant the resident male. Tom Lake.]

3/17 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: One of the surest signs of spring for us is the upriver surge of blackbirds. Large flocks of blackbirds, cowbirds, and grackles leap-frog through the forest, creating an unmistakable clamor as they work their way north.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

3/18 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: A banded adult bald eagle was feasting on a Canada goose along Crum Elbow Creek near Route 9G. I could not make out the number. I always wanted to see one take a duck, but this one had a goose.
- Peter Fanelli

[This might have been a scavenge rather than a kill. It's uncommon to see eagles taking geese along the Hudson mainstem. Ducks are far easier. Pete Nye says that eagles in the Catskills, particularly at the reservoirs, will take down a goose, drive its head under water, and drown it. Geese are far too heavy to move. Tom Lake.]

3/18 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The male of eagle nest NY62 was on eggs in midday of Incubation Day 22. We sensed that a switch-over might be near. Every so often he would poke his head up above the side, look around, and then duck back down. One of many mysteries that shape the relationship of mated eagles is how they plan their day, how they decide to divide the duties.
- Judy Winter, Tom McDowell, Tom Lake

[In recent days, both adults have been seen carrying sticks, twigs, and softer material into the nest. At the same time, the sides have been rising incrementally to a point where you cannot see into the nest unless they stand up. This may be the first time in thirteen years that we've seen this behavior during the incubation season. It could be that the unusually harsh winter with serious wind-chills has prompted precautions. Tom Lake.]

3/19 - Rensselaer County, HRM 146: This afternoon I watched the beautiful "ballet flight" of a short-eared owl flying low over an open field on the north side of Route 43 in North Greenbush. Coincidently, I was on my way to Robert C. Parker School to present a bird program for their first grade class.
- Heidi Klinowski

3/19 - Columbia County, HRM 132: There are some great views of Kinderhook Creek as you travel north on Route 66, with many open fields between the creek and the road. Flying alongside me over the fields was an adult bald eagle carrying a small branch in its beak. How exciting to think there may be a nest nearby on this stretch of the Kinderhook.
- Fran Martino

3/19 - Gardiner, HRM 73: It was only 38 degrees F, but after one of the first hard rainy nights, the spring peepers were out!
- Rebecca Houser

3/19 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The tide was dead low in late morning and the delta of the tidal Wappinger Creek was strewn with jumbled ice floes and exposed mud flats. An adult bald eagle was hunched over a carcass in the mud while three immatures took up observation posts around him (he may have been the adult male from NY62). The prey was a dead common carp and appeared to have been at least five pounds live weight. It was almost certain that this was a scavenge rather than a kill.
- Tom Lake

3/19 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: John Grant saw and Christine McCluskey photographed (for positive identification) a Wilson's snipe on the sports field at the entrance to Croton Point.
- John Grant

3/19 - Westchester County, HRM 35-34: Wood ducks had taken possession of whatever bays and backwaters had opened in the past couple of days. Against the seasonal drabness, they were gaudy in breeding plumage. At Croton Point, the first killdeer of the season were inspecting the few bare gravel patches. And in a winter that has given us many robin sightings, I heard the first honest singing, that wonderful, cheerful caroling that always puts a smile on my face.
- Christopher Letts

***** Spring arrived with the vernal equinox at 12:57 p.m. *****

3/20 - Rosendale, HRM 84: I bounded out of bed this morning at dawn, joyfully awaking to the beautiful song of a winter wren, so fitting on this first day of spring.
- Kali Bird

[Bill Schlessinger suggested that this may be a fairly early winter wren occurrence, even though e-bird says someone in New York State spotted one in January. Kali Bird]

[While not common here in cold months, this wren's winter range extends north to the Mohawk Valley. However, those we find in that season rarely sing, so in that sense this observation could be a first spring occurrence. Steve Stanne.]

3/20 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The midday switch-over at NY62 occurred at 12:30 p.m. As has been rather common over the last week, there were several uninvited eagle visitors. Across the daylight hours I counted four interlopers, two adults and two immatures. The most noteworthy occurred when the female was returning from her break and was accompanied by another adult, presumable a male. When she was about 300 feet from the nest she began acting aggressively to her "tail." After chasing the bird away, she relieved the incubating male.
- Tom McDowell

3/20 - Hunter's Brook, HRM 67.5: At low tide on the vernal equinox a half-dozen gizzard shad were pooled up in the shallows at the mouth of Hunter's Brook. This has historically been a prime hunting time for eagles as gizzard shad seek out warmer and often shallow pools - they do not do well in very cold water. The river was 33 degrees F; the pools at the mouth of Hunter's Brook were 37 degrees - still very cold but enough of a difference to lure cold-blooded animals.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

3/20 - Westchester County, HRM 43-34: I went looking for spring. Well, it felt like March - blustery, a tease of blue sky and warmth - then a polar gust across Haverstraw Bay. Patience. Overnight, Haverstraw Bay and the Tappan Zee had been all but cleared of ice floes. Even Peekskill Bay, yesterday a field of white, was now open water. As I moved north from Croton, counting eagles, I was surprised at the scanty numbers. Where I had recently tallied 41, by the time I had reached Peekskill I had seen just a dozen. A partial answer was provided when I carefully examined the far north shore of Peekskill Bay: eighteen birds were strung out along a half mile of shoreline, making the most of the remaining ice.
- Christopher Letts

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