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Hudson River Almanac April 3 - April 9, 2014

OVERVIEW

With all of the talk of signs of spring, perhaps the best indicator is the variety of entries we see this week, from river herring to seals, osprey to ibis, butterflies to maple syrup. The breadth of observations grows as our involvement with the out-of-doors increases.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/7 - Piermont, HRM 25: Three glossy ibis flying from the north were spotted on the pier today. These wading birds are very uncommon-to-rare inland from marine environments.
- Evan Mark

[The only two other inland glossy ibis sightings reported in the Almanac occurred on May 1998 at Croton Point (HRM 34), and May 2000 at Constitution Marsh (HRM 53). Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/3 - Newcomb, HRM 302: This must have been a good day to fly as I heard several flocks of geese overhead. A friend in Vermont commented this evening that she too was hearing geese all day. This morning I watched a male pileated woodpecker on a tall snag. He was 30 feet up the tree, drumming in hopes of attracting a mate or claiming his territory. He drummed consistently for about 30 minutes before flying across the road and drumming again. Two more sparrow species showed up today as well - American tree sparrow and song sparrow - twenty of which were in my backyard late this afternoon, making use of a small patch of bare ground to forage.
- Charlotte Demers

4/3 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was into sap! When I tapped five sugar maples last weekend, only two of them had any dripping going on. However, after the past several days of 40s and low 50s, all taps were running despite the twenty inches of snow on the ground. My low-level goal is to come up with a good twelve ounces of lovely syrup with my stove-top operation.
- Mike Corey

4/3 - Athens, HRM 118: As the DEC Hudson River herring crew was haul seining for river herring, we had a peculiar bystander: a harbor seal! The seal popped its dark head up about 30 yards from shore and curiously gawked at our activity.
- Jessica Goretzke

[Over the last twenty years, we have had four species of seals recorded in the Hudson River Estuary: gray, harbor, hooded, and harp seals. The overwhelming majority of sightings have been harbor seals, with Almanac records as far upriver at Albany (HRM 145). They are spotted most often in winter on ice floes, or in spring when the spawning runs of herring and shad surge in from the sea. Tom Lake.]

wood ducks, a hen and a drake, in a tree

4/3 - New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: While walking along Wappinger Creek this morning, I heard the strange call of ducks coming from the trees. There a hen and drake wood duck were evaluating a hollowed-out tree as a suitable home for nesting. [Photo of hen and drake wood duck on dead snag by Kim Simons.]
- Kim Simons

4/3 - Denning's Point, HRM 61: I had only one bite all day fishing in the bay, and caught only one fish, but it was a beautiful channel catfish. The male catfish was 26 inches long, 7 lb. 14 oz. As I eased him back into the water, I reflected that my fishing experience suggests that there is a concentration of these large males in the very early spring each year. As the season wears on, my catch consists of smaller females having the usual olive tinge to their backs and sides, along with the small "black pepper" spots.
- Bill Greene

4/3 - Croton Point, HRM 35: It was a bluebird morning, with at least half dozen of them calling and feeding in the oak grove. The red-headed woodpecker was still in residence, a visit going on four months now. Far out on Haverstraw Bay, about 80 common goldeneyes were diving and drifting. That was the largest concentration of "whistlers" I have seen on the river in many years.
- Christopher Letts

["Whistler" is a colloquial name for the common goldeneye; their rapidly beating wings make a whistling sound as they fly past. Tom Lake.]

4/3 - Palisades, HRN 23: As I parked my car at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a female wood duck flew from the deep end of the marsh and landed in a dead tree in the nearby woods. As I grabbed my binoculars the male flew from the marsh and over the woods as well. I searched for the female but could not locate her. As I lowered my binoculars she flew from the tree and returned to the marsh. A closer look at the far side of the tree revealed a nest hole towards the top where I assumed she had been hiding.
- Linda Pistolesi

4/4 - Papscanee Island, Rensselaer County, HRM 140: I counted 88 wood ducks at Papscanee Island today in the large pools flooding the fields. They were in with fourteen black ducks, eighteen mallards, eighteen green-winged teal, two blue-winged teal, and three northern pintails.
- Steve Mesick (Hudson Mohawk Bird Club)

4/4 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While cutting down an ash tree to replenish a depleted firewood supply I noticed a mourning cloak butterfly dancing

a mourning cloak butterfly on a sundial

about our woods - my first butterfly sighting of the year. It eventually alighted on our sundial, pausing long enough for me to get a few photos. It appeared to have wintered very well and was enjoying the warm metallic sundial's surface. [Photo of mourning cloak butterfly by Bob Ottens.] - Bob Ottens

4/4 - Millbrook, HRM 82: Driving past a south-side farmer's field on Camby Road I noticed a large white bird in with the Canada geese. It was a gorgeous snow goose. I'd never seen them here before and, while it was gone the next day, it was a real treat to see.
- Ilana Nilsen

4/4 - Walden, HRM 65: A merlin that occasionally checks out my backyard feeder was perched in a nearby hickory tree. It was standing on top of a large black bird (starling?) busily plucking, feathers flying. The raptor spent twenty minutes devouring every edible part. It amazed me how dexterous its legs and talons were in holding and rearranging the meal to the last bite.
- Patricia Henighan

4/4 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Three ospreys were bound northeast on this dark, dank morning, and several kestrels were on the hunt on the landfill. A pair of ravens kept me occupied for fifteen minutes as they loudly inspected the point. They flew close overhead, keeping up a running conversation the whole while. The ravens, kestrels, and osprey were well worth a venture on a wet, cold morning.
- Christopher Letts

4/5 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While walking along the Mohonk foothills I saw a falcon with something clenched in its talons. As I moved closer the bird took flight and landed in a nearby tree. With a better view I reevaluated the bird's identity. It was a male peregrine falcon with a cardinal.
- Bob Ottens

4/5 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Dutchess Community College Field Archaeology students recovered a small stone tool today along the river that was made and used about 2,500 years ago. It was a projectile point, part of a Stone Age tool kit, that had been hafted (fastened) onto a spear or dart. This was a prehistoric culture that we refer to as Adena. Just as with the locations of bald eagle nests, we try to limit the visibility of archaeological sites. It is often assumed that archaeologists are mining for riches when the reality is far less glamorous.
- Stephanie Roberg-Lopez, Tom Lake

[Adena is the name given to a culture that arose in the Midwest and Mid-south about 2,500 years ago, and spread their influence - and tool kits - across the Northeast and elsewhere through trade. These discoveries of the fishers and foragers of long ago provide great time depth and help put a face on the ancestral human occupations in the Hudson River Valley. Tom Lake.]

4/5 - Brockway, HRM 62: Our attention was drawn to a large and dead floating fish, less than a hundred feet offshore. It had also drawn the attention of a half-dozen ring-billed gulls. They were dipping and diving overhead, not quite sure if this was a bonanza or a tease. It was too heavy to move and too large to make bite-sized. Their admiration probably remained unrequited.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

4/5 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: During the severe late-winter cold spell, I was comparing notes with Rockland County naturalist and author Laurence Pringle. We had been enjoying several Carolina wrens, he on the West Bank, me on the Right Bank. I expressed concern - hard cold spells are tough on these recent interlopers from farther south. Since that severe cold, Pringle has seen no Carolina wrens and mine were missing as well. Their calls and antics will be missed in the seasons ahead.
- Christopher Letts

4/6 - Minerva, HRM 284: I found red crossbill fledglings, at least sixteen birds, at four locations in Minerva this morning.
- Joan Collins

[According to the Birds of North America Online, red crossbill eggs have been found from mid-December to early September. The annual breeding cycle of this nomadic species, while apparently regulated by day length, allows for opportunistic responses to their food supply - the cone crop of coniferous trees. Steve Stanne.]

4/6 - Coxsackie to Stockport, HRM 124-121: Four days ago, we did a "first of season" paddle. The most interesting sighting was a pair of common ravens near the mouth of Stockport Creek. I have been seeing ravens along that reach of the river for the past two summers and wondered where they might be nesting. As we approached the Stockport railroad bridge, I saw a large black bird land in the upper bridge structure. Investigating, we found an apparent nest with lots of sticks in the second to last support on the eastern side of the bridge. Today, as Michael Kalin paddled out of Henry Hudson Park, he photographed a raven by the railroad bridge that crosses over the Binnen Kill. I'm wondering if they might be nesting there as well.
- Alan Mapes, Robin Read, Michael Kalin

4/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: In midday, I was snapping shot after shot, hoping for a few good images of eagle nest NY62. At about photo number 175, I thought I saw something move, as Mom was still in her feeding mode. When I got home and reviewed my photo, there it was, a bit blurry, but the first image of the 2014 eagle nestling - a handful of gray fluff.
- Judy Winter

[As noted several times already in the Almanac, this scene is presently playing out in at least two dozen eagle nests in the Hudson River watershed. Tom Lake.]

4/6 - Fishkill, HRM 61: Gazing into my backyard woods, I noticed a bird go whizzing past. It was a red-bellied woodpecker that promptly landed on a dead tree where it entered a nest hole 50 feet up the snag. Periodically, it would stick its head - crowned with bright red - out the hole and peer about.
- Ed Spaeth

4/7 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: Tamarack Lake was very choppy today, but I found a pied-billed grebe fairly close to shore and watched it catch and eat a fish. I was really amazed that it could eat an adult bluegill sunfish!
- Debi Kral

4/7 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: A co-worker and I were driving home to Pleasant Valley this morning when we saw a large wolf or coyote walk in front of our cars and stand on the side of the road where we were able to look closer. It was definitely not a dog, and not small or thin enough to be a coyote.
- Jen Kovach

[Without direct evidence of a wolf being in the area, and there has not been any for a very, very long time, we have to think that this was a coyote. While many of our coyotes exhibit the tan, lean, and hungry look we come to expect, there are some that have been shown to have gray wolf DNA, an eastern coyote variety that tends to get a bit larger and more wolf-like. These are the ones that we like to refer to as "woyotes." Tom Lake.]

4/7 - Crugers, HRM 39: We had been so spoiled by the eagle sightings here every day, sometimes taking them for granted. But today we noticed a large striped bass head that had been dropped in the middle of the street. Maybe an eagle or osprey had been passing by?
- Dianne Picciano

[Our best guess is that this was the work of an osprey. They have been back from wintering locations far to the south for at least a week and have already been seen fishing the estuary. Tom Lake.]

4/8 - Fort Miller, HRM 192.5: On March 25, I spotted a collar-banded Canada goose in a flock of about 500. Today I received word that the goose had been banded in Quebec in 1999. Fifteen years later and many miles away, it appeared to be a healthy bird!
- Scott Varney (HMBC)

4/8 - Castleton-on-Hudson, HRM 131: Data on two more recently reported collar-banded Canada geese also came back:
1. A female, noted on March 25, had been collar-banded in 2005, or earlier, in Varennes, Quebec.
2. A male, noted on March 26, had been collar-banded in 2012, or earlier, in Boucherville, Quebec.
- Nancy Kern

4/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The Hudson River channel was finally ice-free this afternoon but there was still plenty of ice on the back bays and sides of the river. Both common and hooded mergansers, as well as black ducks, were making use of the open water. Despite the twelve inches of snow still on the ground, birds were starting to sing their breeding songs in the morning instead of just a variety of chips and tweets. Fox sparrows had joined the avian parade and a chipmunk was already working on its next cache by raiding the bird feeder.
- Charlotte Demers

4/8 - Saugerties, HRM 102: Peepers were heard today for the first time this spring on the DeMyers Vly. They are late this year; I usually hear them one or two weeks earlier. The resident Canada geese were on our pond despite it still being partially iced. Typically the geese have laid their eggs by April 1, with goslings hatching about May 2-3.
- Dan Marazita

4/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adult female in eagle nest NY62 continues to "improve" her nest. She came in today with a large stick that she placed on the side. The feeding also continued and so far there appears to be only one nestling.
- Terry Hardy

three caspian terns on a beach

4/8 - Croton River, HRM 34: Three Caspian terns were spotted on the low tide sandy spit at the mouth of the Croton River. [Photo of Caspian terns by Evan Mack.]
- Evan Mack

[In 20+ years of the Hudson River Almanac, we have recorded twelve species of terns in the greater Hudson River watershed:
- Arctic tern
- black tern
- bridled tern
- Caspian tern
- common tern
- Forster's tern
- gull-billed tern
- sandwich tern
- sooty tern
- royal tern
- little tern
- least tern
Most of these are typically found in tidewater/marine habitats, where they are quite common. However, a couple, such as the sooty and sandwich, were "accidentals," blown here on the winds of tropical storms such as Irene in 2011. Tom Lake.]

4/9 - Saratoga County, HRM 157: I spotted a bald eagle perched in a tree along the Mohawk River near its confluence with the Hudson. It had a large fish dangling from its talons.
- Rich Guthrie

[Rich Guthrie's suspicions were confirmed with a clear digital image: the fish was a freshwater drum. Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) are not a native fish in the Hudson/Mohawk system. They probably arrived here in the last 30 years through the New York State canal system and the Mohawk River connecting the watershed with the Great Lakes. Tom Lake.]

4/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: A male eastern towhee perched briefly in one of our trees today. I've only seen towhees here once before, several years ago.
- Diane DesAutels

4/9 - Dobbs Ferry, HRM 23.5: We stumbled upon a carcass of a young harp seal on the beach today just above the tide line.
- Frederick Charles, Steve Tilly, Dave Knox

[A harp seal was spotted on an ice floe off Iona Island (HRM 45.5) on February 27. Since harp seals are uncommon in the estuary, this may have been the same seal. Kim Durham, of the Riverhead Foundation, estimated the harp seal to be a yearling, 14-16 months old, and they were working on a plan to recover the seal for cause-of-death analyses. Tom Lake.]

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