Hudson River Almanac March 28 - April 2, 2014
This is the time of the year when the seasons overlap along the Hudson's course. In the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, especially at elevations near 5,000 feet, it is still seriously winter with ice and snow. Along the estuary south to coastal New York, shirtsleeves are often adequate. Monitors at most bald eagle nests in the watershed are reporting hatchling activities.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
3/28 - Saratoga County, HRM 180: This winter, Project Snowstorm radio-tagged many snowy owls in a wide number of areas and states, though none of the owls in our area was involved. One of those tagged, dubbed "Century," got her name for being the 100th snowy owl captured this winter at Logan Airport in Boston. On March 15, the owl was on the New Hampshire coast, and then took a rather random route through parts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. When last checked on March 24, this snowy owl had spent much of the day flying around Saratoga Lake.
- Will Raup (Hudson Mohawk Bird Club)
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
3/28 - Ulster and Dutchess Counties: Observations on this rainy evening indicated that winter was finally giving way to spring, as volunteers with the Hudson River Estuary Program's Amphibian Migrations & Road Crossings project saw the first amphibian migration activity of the year. With a steady rain, fog, and temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, conditions were suitable for forest amphibians to begin their trek to vernal pools for breeding. In our neck of the woods, we returned to a New Paltz road that we've surveyed before, and found spotted salamanders, wood frogs, spring peepers, and an American toad on the move. The rain continued, and on the next night we added Jefferson-blue spotted salamander hybrids, four-toed salamanders, and an eastern newt to our New Paltz data. Unfortunately, even on low-traffic roads, mortality can be high when amphibians need to cross roads in transit from their forest habitat to vernal pools. For both nights of the rainy weekend, based on data forms submitted for thirteen sites in both counties to date, project volunteers assisted 633 amphibians of nine species across roads to safety. For more information on migrating amphibians in the Hudson Valley and on volunteering with this project, visit the Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings website.
- Laura Heady
3/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Incubation Day 32. There were more of the usual switch-overs, with at least one more fly-by of an immature. Since food is foremost on the mind of eagles, especially immatures, it almost seems certain that these birds still have fond memories (associations) of nests and "free food." We were now in the 32-35 day range for a hatch, so if our calculations are accurate, it could happen soon.
- Tom Lake
3/28 - Peekskill, HRM 43: This was the first live woodchuck of the year, and one to be envied. The big veteran was ensconced within the chain-link fence surrounding the Westchester County incinerator near China Pier, with dogs and cars on the outside. Too big to worry about hawks or owls, and with the run of five acres of grass, this was a lucky chuckie.
- Christopher Letts
3/28 - Crugers, HRM 39: For the last few days we have been treated to the antics of some beautiful hooded mergansers - five males and three females - in Ogilvie's Pond. Their bright colors stood out against the darkness of the pond waters as they scooted around and dove under the water.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson
3/29 - Minerva, HRM 284: We were a week into "spring," and doing the best we could! This afternoon a small flock of red-winged blackbirds was hanging out in a maple tree in our yard, no doubt heading north, no doubt looking for the usual signs of spring. Those birds will be hard-pressed to find much. The pond in the back forty still had about twenty inches of ice with a foot or so of snow on top. We still had three feet of wet snow in the open with a bit less in the woods. The deer and their major "highways" through the snow were everywhere. Yesterday I tapped five sugar maples in the yard. This morning only two out of the five were producing tiny volumes of sap. It's been a very slow season for sap, and the commercial producers in the area are hoping for better results soon.
- Mike Corey
3/29 - Northumberland, HRM 190: I had at least ten rusty blackbirds in the midst of easily 750 mixed icterids [blackbirds] in Northumberland. The flock took off while I was scanning.
- Ron Harrower (HMBC)
3/29 - Stuyvesant, HRM 127: There were still about 300 snow geese scattered in small flocks or mixed in with Canada geese from Stuyvesant cornfields to Schodack. Two Canada geese had neck collars.
- Nancy Kern (HMBC)
3/29 - Plattekill, HRM 69: During the rain tonight, I saw a few spotted salamanders crossing two roads in the town of Plattekill. These were the first amphibians I'd seen this spring.
- Jesse Jaycox
3/30 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Overnight was a "chicken-soaker," two inches of hard, cold rain. At dawn, perhaps from a sense of urgency, there appeared to be something important occurring in eagle nest NY62. At midday, the female was spotted carrying a fish back to the nest - first food - a chain pickerel. This is the season for chain pickerel to be cruising the shallows in nearby tidal Wappinger Creek.
- Bob Rightmyer, Tom McDowell, Tom Lake
[We calculate that this was incubation Day 34, which fits well in the 32-35 day average. From subsequent behavior, it is possible that they might still be incubating another egg since they continue to "sit" as well as bring food, making regular switch-overs for incubation duty. There was at least one year when this pair had an egg that did not hatch. We are keeping a close eye to see when the incubation activity ceases and they devote all their time to a nestling. Tom Lake.]
3/30 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: The back bay of Furnace Brook was loaded with gorgeous hooded mergansers, and one knock-out osprey in breeding plumage was perched on a pole over the sheltered bay. The river was a churning, muddy, high-tide mess, not very inviting for a sight-feeder like the osprey.
- Christopher Letts
3/30 - Furnace Brook, HRM 38.5: Just days after we put our fyke nets in several streams the forecast of heavy rain convinced us to remove them for a couple of days. Downstream in Westchester County's Furnace Brook, the water registered a balmy 44 degrees F, and four precious glass eels were in the net. They appeared as little crystal ribbons, with a fine silver filigree of vertebrae, and tiny coral hearts. I'd read that 40 degrees F was the temperature at which the glass eels start running. They are on their way.
- Chris Bowser, Caitlin Zinsley
[Freshwater eels have survived global cataclysms for millions of years but now some populations appear to be diminishing, even disappearing, worldwide and scientists are not quite certain why. 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, one of the juvenile life stages of the American eel, lack pigment and are nearly transparent. They arrive by the millions in the estuary each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the greater Sargasso Sea where they were born. This is a particularly vulnerable time for them and little is known about this period in their life history. 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.]
3/31 - Port Ewen, HRM 91: I finally got to see a Barrow's goldeneye drake on the Hudson River after six unsuccessful attempts at two locations on the Hudson (Stillwater, Fort Miller) and the Connecticut River in VT/NH. This was my second attempt at this location in Ulster County. Thanks to Ken McDermott for alerting me to the bird's presence. Also thanks to the person with the scope who found it shortly after I arrived at the site and allowed me to view it through his scope. He said he also saw it yesterday, along with a red-necked grebe and a white-winged scoter.
- Jesse Jaycox
3/31 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adults in NY62 still seem to be sharing nest duties. In midday the male flew into the nest, landed very carefully, and then "scooched" next to the female as if getting in position to incubate. There was still thought that there might be another egg to cover as well as a nestling to feed.
- Judy Winter
[First food to the nest is the best indicator that another mouth needs to be fed. During incubation, the adults do not bring food to the nest since that would only invite egg-raiders such as raccoons. A good corollary would be eating cheese doodles in your tent in the Catkills and then having a midnight visit by a black bear. Eagle nestlings rely entirely on the hunting skills of their parents for 72-90 days. Tom Lake.]
3/31 - Croton Point, HRM 35: We saw a bunch of woodcock at Croton Point tonight. They are tough birds to really get a good shot of.
- Jeff Seneca, Charlie Roberto
4/1 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Despite the warming air temperature and over an inch of rain, 26 inches of snow still remained on the ground. The Hudson River had some open water but was mostly frozen and the deer were still skedaddling across the ice upriver of the Route 28N Bridge. I watched a solo Canada goose land in a small pocket of open water at the bridge this morning. As I flicked my eyes back to the road ahead, I saw my first American robin of the season. He quickly flew from the edge of the road into an ornamental tree that still had some remnant berries clinging to its branches. He joins yesterday's swamp sparrow on my list of avian signs of spring.
- Charlotte Demers
4/1 - Fort Edward, HRM 202: As I drove past the osprey platform next to the Hudson-Champlain Canal on Route 4, I saw two osprey on the platform.
- Scott Varney (HMBC)
4/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: I found coltsfoot, clustered in the mud, blooming in a lovely golden mass at the base of the rock face across the road from the entrance to Croton Gorge Park. Just days ago, that same rock face was hung with "ice beards." In the wet woods, spring peepers were tuning up for a full-throated chorusing to come.
- Robin Fox
4/2 - Albany, HRM 145: A hermit thrush flew up to a branch, allowing for photos and good looks, about a hundred feet beyond the trailhead at APB-Madison Avenue Pinelands (Albany Pine Bush). A peregrine falcon zoomed past, heading north as well.
- Tom Williams
[In the wake of the last Ice Age 16,000 years ago, meltwater from the ice sheets formed huge lakes behind dams of ice and debris deposited by the glaciers. Glacial Lake Iroquois occupied and eventually exceeded the footprint of modern Lake Ontario. For a time it drained through what is today the Mohawk River Valley and into Glacial Lake Albany, which filled the Hudson Valley. As these lakes shrank over the years, sandy bottom deposits were exposed and shaped into dune fields by wind. Today, the largest of these relic dune fields lies between Albany and Schenectady, where the Iro-Mohawk River built a delta into higher, early stages of Lake Albany. This dune field landscape is variously known as the Albany Dunes, the Capitol Dunes Complex, or, reflecting its xeric vegetation (adapted to survive in soils with low moisture content), simply the Pine Bush. Jonathan Lothrop, James W. Bradley, Steve Stanne.]
4/2 - New Paltz, HRM 78: The 63 degree F sunny afternoon had me taking a walk on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail to get out into the woods and see what was happening. Right in the trail in front of me, basking in the sun, was a mourning cloak butterfly, the first I'd seen this year. I startled it and it flew away, only to be replaced by another butterfly, one of the angle-wings, either a comma or a question mark. It flew up and away. I waited for it to come back, and it did, chasing the mourning cloak up and down the trail over my head until they both finally disappeared into the woods. I have seen butterflies defend their "turf" along a trail, but never from a butterfly of another species.
- Lynn Bowdery
4/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adults seem to be settling down to indulging a nestling. With the high sides, there is no evidence yet how many, 1-2-3, may be in the nest. The male brought in a catfish today, the remnants of which we will likely find under the nest tree at some point as leftovers are discarded.
- Tom Lake
[Now that we have a hatch date (March 30), we can project a date range for fledging (leaving the nest). Bald eagles in the Northeast fledge, on average, from 72-90 days, in this case, June 10 to June 28. The average fledge date for twelve NY62 nestlings across thirteen years has been 78 days. Tom Lake.]
4/2 - Staten Island, New York City: Saint Clare School's Environmental Team collected 93 glass eels today and one well-developed elver! After weeks of dealing with the cold and catching only some killifish, this was a euphoric moment for us! Let's hope for more little wigglers in our net!
- Mary Lee
[Elver is the life stage of the American eel after glass eel. These are, for the most part, last year's glass eels that have matured to the point where they look like miniature adult eels, in both physical characteristics and darker pigmentation. As glass eels are already a year old, elvers are minimally two-year-olds ranging to three to five-year-olds, with sizes ranging from 100-200 millimeters (four to eight inches) total length. Tom Lake.]