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Hudson River Almanac April 10 - April 16, 2014

OVERVIEW

River herring were in from the sea to spawn, repeating a ritual that began before the first of us were in the Hudson Valley. Eagle nestlings were showing themselves and the march of spring flower blooms was beginning its progression up the river valley.

HIGHLIGHT OF A PREVIOUS WEEK

4/6 - Garrison, HRM 51: While visiting a remote vernal pool in Hudson Highlands State Park, I was surprised to encounter a spotted salamander egg mass dangling from a hemlock branch fully two feet above the water's surface. An arboreal outlier? Doubtful. It is more likely the branch was somehow bent into the water, only to spring back after the eggs had been deposited and the last of the pool's ice had melted away.
- Ed McGowan

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/10 - Newcomb-Minerva, HRM 302-284: I birded this morning along Route 28N. Some of the species included yellow-bellied sapsucker and male and female black-backed woodpeckers (the male was chasing a hairy woodpecker).
- Joan Collins

4/10 - Lake Luzerne, HRM 224: This morning I spotted a pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers drilling "sapwells" in my sugar maple tree.
- Melissa Maslanka

[Sapsuckers drill little holes or shallow spots on the surface of the tree to get at the running sap that they then drink, hence the common name "sapsucker." They drill them so that they can come back to the same spot and get at new sap. Melissa Maslanka.]

4/10 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: I watched a pair of ravens in a courtship-type flight over the Coxsackie Grasslands today. I would think they would have a nest already established by now. They have definitely moved into the Hudson Valley, even away from rock cliffs and ledges.
- Rich Guthrie

4/10 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While walking in the nature sanctuary along an oxbow of the Wallkill River, we saw dozens of dead carp and other fish.
- Shirley Warren, Jeff Warren

[Numerous reports have come in to DEC about this fish kill. "Winter kill" is the likely culprit. This old oxbow (a loop in the river's course, abandoned when the Wallkill cut across the neck of the land within the loop) is a highly eutrophic system, meaning it contains lots of decomposing organic material. Respiration by the bacteria that do the decomposing, and by fish and other creatures, used up the dissolved oxygen in the water. In winter, the thick ice (which melted only recently here) prevented recharge by oxygen from the atmosphere. A deep snow cover limited sunlight that might otherwise have energized photosynthesis and production of oxygen by aquatic algae, and what little flooding there has been came too late to refresh the oxbow with oxygenated water from the Wallkill. Most of the dead fish are carp; I've seen a few sunfish too. No bullheads, a catfish that is common here and a frequent catch of the great blue herons that hunt the oxbow. Bullhead are hardy; I suspect they've survived. I also imagine that many carp did make it; we'll find out in a month or so, when any survivors will be thrashing about in their spawning rituals. Steve Stanne.]

4/10 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: A great blue heron was standing on an old cement bridge abutment surrounded by shallow swirling pools at the head of tide. In the clear water we could see the shadows of alewives swimming frenetically in circles at the bird's feet. The heron saw them as well and made several feints at the fish without pulling the trigger. A foot-long herring is just about at the outside of their preferred prey size; they would much prefer a six-inch golden shiner. After assessing the situation, the heron took off to look for easier pickings. The creek had warmed to 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

4/10 - Crugers, HRM 39: Our daffodils were in full bloom and forsythia buds were evident as spring tried hard to make its comeback. Although temperatures were in the 60s today, winds were brisk, creating whitecaps on the river.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

4/10 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: We watched Papa cardinal take a sunflower seed from a feeder and fly ten feet to a perch where Mama cardinal waited. She took the seed. The ritual was repeated twice more. Perhaps we violated the spirit of the transaction, but it was impossible not to recall the snowy, blowy, bitter winter days when she got the bum's rush if she tried to feed with him.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

4/10 - Croton Point, HRM 34: Another wave of kestrels had moved in, pushing the male red-winged blackbirds off the landfill well-markers they use as singing posts.
- Christopher Letts

4/11 - Greene County, HRM 131: We had a series of light to moderate rain showers this afternoon and early evening, so I went out after dark and drove the back roads, slowly, in search of salamanders. I found only a few six spotted salamanders and one Jefferson type.
- Rich Guthrie

4/11 - Croton River, HRM 34: The osprey nest on the cell phone tower was active again. Over the last two days, at least one osprey has been seen bringing branches to the nest. This morning, while I was waiting for the train, an osprey returned with a fish (too far away to identify) and began eating it atop the tower but outside the nest.
- Hugh L. McLean

4/12 - Greene County, HRM 128-121: I've seen common ravens almost every day lately, from distant locations such as Four-Mile Point, Coxsackie Grasslands, and Coxsackie Reservoir. In ten short years, they've come from being a local rarity to an almost every day bird.
- Rich Guthrie

4/12 - Ulster County, HRM 85: Over the last two days, we have spotted two nestlings in the Rondout Reservoir eagle nest with Mom. Once she flew out and returned with a squirrel.
- Linda Trummer-Napolitano

adult bald eagle in a nest with two eaglets

4/12 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We knew there had been a successful hatch at eagle nest NY62 thirteen days ago, but today several of us got good looks for the first time at two nestlings! They were sitting side-by-side in the nest under Mom's left wing. [Photo of adult and two nestling bald eagles courtesy Bob Rightmyer.]
- Bob Rightmyer, Judy Winter, Tom McDowell, Terry Hardy

4/12 - Foundry Brook, HRM 53: Spawning had begun! Suckers arrived this afternoon in the brook below the little dam in Constitution Marsh's West Point Foundry Preserve. They were 14-18 inches long, slender, with a down-turned mouth. There were easily a hundred in the brook! Some exhibited red stripes on their sides.
- James P. Hartford

[The fish in Foundry Brook were white suckers (Catostomus commersoni), a native species. They are annual tributary spawners and have been using Foundry Brook or its ancestral stream for 12,000 years. During the spawning season, male white suckers develop a reddish-stripe on their sides, as well as breeding tubercles (bumps on their head and fins). From Colonial times through the mid-20th century, there was a cottage industry for smoking and pickling along the estuary. A delightful fish! Tom Lake.]

4/12 - Rockland County, HRM 42: Among a small herd of white-tailed deer in Harriman State Park, I spotted a "pinto." It had a brown head, back, and half of its back legs. The other half of the deer was very white - its neck, half of its torso, all of front legs, and half of the back legs.
- Betty Enos

[White and brown deer are commonly referred to as "piebald." White is a recessive color phase of white-tailed deer. Pete Fanelli.]

4/13 - Saratoga County, HRM 178: From the park at the north end of Saratoga Lake I counted eight Bonaparte's gulls (several in breeding plumage) and four common loons swimming together, as well as several buffleheads and hooded mergansers.
- Susan Beaudoin (Hudson Mohawk Bird Club)

4/13 - Delmar, HRM 143: An evening walk around Five Rivers Environmental Center was made all the more remarkable with an air temperature of 77 degrees F. Besides red-winged blackbirds and cardinals calling from the trees, Canada geese were already staking out territories on the ponds. Two pairs squared off in the middle of one pond and got into a water fight with some dunking. On another pond, five or six painted turtles were out, sharing a log with a monster snapping turtle. Walking back to the visitor center, I found pussy willows in bloom against the sunset.
- Larry Roth

4/13 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Cleanup of the dead carp at the Nyquist-Harcourt Sanctuary (see 4/10) has begun. The cleanup crew consists mostly of turkey vultures, with one or two black vultures mixed in. Today I noticed that one of the turkey vultures had a light blue tag on its left wing, with the number 302. I reported it to the U.S. Geological Survey's bird banding clearinghouse. A few days later they reported back that the vulture had been banded and wing-tagged near Hamburg, PA, on 06/27/2011, when it was already one year old.
- Steve Stanne

4/13 - Beacon, HRM 61: There were a lot of "bait stealers" at Long Dock today (very small or very clever fish). I caught and released three carp weighing 8-15 lb, a couple of channel catfish (2-3 lb), and a brown bullhead. There was also a good concentration of striped bass anglers.
- Bill Greene

4/13 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 40-33: On this glorious come-hither-day, every pier and seawall on the east bank bristled with fishing rods. Spring fever and striper madness had struck. "No big ones yet, all throw backs," I was told. Any bass under eighteen inches long had to be released. I think people needed a day of fishing more than they needed a fish.
- Christopher Letts

4/14 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a brilliant spring morning with robins and white-throated sparrows singing. It then became a perfect spring day with air temperatures in the 60s, the snow quickly melting, and the frost finally coming out of the ground. Yesterday was the first day that our bird feeders were not visited by the local wintering deer herd. I also heard the first woodcock of the year "peenting" in the backyard last night. In the upland hardwoods this morning there were fresh deer tracks on the forest floor; deer are heading out of their wintering yards and going back to summer range.
- Charlotte Demers

4/14 - Highland, HRM 76: Mason bees started emerging in full today. The males were crazy for food and amour. The females started hatching late in the day.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

[These are a species of leafcutter bee in the genus Osmia. Their common name, mason bee, comes from their building of mud compartments in their nests, usually found in hollow reeds or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects. Tom Lake.]

4/14 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Magnolia was beginning to blossom a week or so later than what might be "usual." In years past when we were readying our nets for the first shad of the season, the blooming of magnolia, usually the first week of April, was a sign to give it a go.
- Tom Lake

4/14 - Westchester County, HRM 34: The great blue heron rookery off Route 121 in Bedford was active again. We counted 24 nests in the old swampland and saw many adults coming and going.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

close up of a bright red summer tanager

4/14 - Westchester County, HRM 18: I came upon a male summer tanager at Lenoir Nature Preserve in Yonkers. It was along the path between the nature center and the Beverly E. Smith Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden.
- Michael Bochnik

[The summer tanager is a rare sighting for Westchester County; there is usually only one report every two to three years. This is only the second record for Yonkers; the previous one was in 1984. Michael Bochnik. Photo of male summer tanager courtesy of Mike Pogue.]

4/15 - New Paltz, HRM 78: The toads and spring peepers had been in full-throttle song during the last few warm days and through the rain early today. However, late in the day the toads dropped out as the temperature fell. Curious to see if the forecast for snow was accurate, I stepped out on our back porch after dark and, sure enough, it was snowing. The temperature had dropped to 33.6 degrees F, but the spring peepers in the marsh were still singing lustily.
- Lynn Bowdery

4/15 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: A few spring-like days and the lure of fishing becomes epidemic. More than a dozen lines were in the water off a low-tide sandy spit, many baited for carp, others less specific - whatever happened along. This scene was repeated in three other spots within a half-mile. Catching fish seemed far less important than simply going fishing.
- Tom Lake

[In spring, each Hudson tributary seems like a microcosm of the entire river. Anglers spring up along the shore with their array of lures and bait for a wide variety of fishes from sea-run herring to river-run suckers, to striped bass and panfish. Tom Lake.]

4/15 - Yonkers, HRM 18: After a successful grand reopening of the Science Barge, I got a call from Robbie Hothan telling me that there was a beaver in the tide pool of the Daylighting Park in the lower reach of the Sawmill River. He was certain, as it had slapped its tail. We found it sitting on a river rock in downtown Yonkers. Could this possibly be the first beaver at the mouth of the Sawmill since Dutchman Adrian Vander Donck built his sawmill in 1640? The beaver was gone the next day - to where, we had no idea.
- Bob Walters, Andy Hudak

4/16 - Milan, HRM 90: I spotted a little brown bat up in the corner of my south-facing porch. It was very near to a light fixture where one has spent the past several summers.
- Marty Otter

4/16 - New Paltz, HRM 78: After dark, in the bright light of the near-full moon, the air temperature was 31.5 degrees F and there were still a few peepers calling.
- Lynn Bowdery

4/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie: At least two fish were brought to the NY62 nest today, creating a flurry of activity. On one occasion Mom relieved Dad, after which he took off and immediately "thermalled" so high I could not see him!
- Debi Kral

["Thermalled" is a colloquialism describing a raptor or vulture spiraling up in the sky on the strength of warm rising air, or a thermal. Tom Lake.]

4/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Both eaglets in NY62 were very active today. Mom fed them in late-afternoon. I thought they might take a nap after eating but as Mom sat in the nest, I could see her constantly getting bumped or shifting her position with the eaglets moving around her.
- Terry Hardy

4/16 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 34: This morning the sun was bright, the sky was a pale, cool blue, and the trees were "blooming" SNOW!
- Robin Fox

[Some locations in eastern Dutchess County received three inches of April snow. Tom Lake.]

4/16 - Croton Point, HRM 34: That loathsome invader we have named Japanese knotweed was poking up thick green-and-white shoots among last year's bleached stalks. Croton Point has steadily been taken over by this and other invasive species. Get even! Eat it! We cook it as a potherb, use it as a rhubarb substitute in almost any recipe. And I look forward to chomping on the young sprouts before they fully leaf out - a tangy, sour acid chew I enjoy.
- Christopher Letts

4/16 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: The cold snap had left small patches of snow, but some trees were budding. The robins were back in full strength; there were dozens on the playing fields where the little field peppergrass was already in bloom. A week ago they were all on the ground, hunting, and silent; today many were singing in the trees, and there were dozens in the woods. The snowdrops were finished, but spicebush was budding. Up on the ridge forsythia was full blown and the periwinkle (Vinca minor) was blooming in a few sunny places. Patches of daylilies had put leaves up in abundance, promising a spectacular display come summer.
- Thomas Shoesmith

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