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Hudson River Almanac April 17 - April 23, 2014

OVERVIEW

As if to authenticate the season, river herring were surging up the estuary and the progression of spring flowers was close behind. Breeding birds, particularly males, from wild turkeys to pileated woodpeckers, were showing off. River temperatures were holding at several degrees Fahrenheit lower than what is typical. A cool, wet, late spring such as this one is generally considered to be beneficial to the spawning success of shad and herring.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

close up of a yellow and red trout lily on the forest floor

4/20 - Esopus, HRM 85: A blue-sky, sunny jaunt at Black Creek Preserve brought many reasons to celebrate the season. Dutchman's breeches, red trillium, lyre-leaved rock cress, and trout lily were in bloom in the forest; river herring were plentiful in the creek (and were easily caught by two anglers casting from mid-stream gravel bars); spotted salamander egg masses were developing in vernal pools; and the calm Hudson was perfect for skipping stones and watching double-crested cormorants dive under the surface. (Photo of trout lily courtesy Laura Heady.)
- Laura Heady

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/17 - Stanfordville, HRM 84: I went out to check bluebird boxes in the field down the road this evening and saw something jump about four feet in the air. It was a gorgeous, healthy red fox with the most amazing of tails hunting very successfully (it had at least one monster-sized vole that I could identify).
- Debi Kral

4/17 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The "alpha" chick (nestling) in eagle nest NY62 was demonstrating its advanced maneuverability over chick number two. Both Mom and Dad were delivering food to the nest several times a day.
- Tom McDowell

[Bald eagles have one to three eggs, and the first nestling to hatch has an advantage over later hatches if the delay in timing is more than about a day. The first, or "alpha" chick, may use its position to take food from younger siblings. If the difference in hatch timing is too extreme, younger siblings may starve. Instinct forces Mom to be impartial; she provides food on a first-come, first-served basis. The chicks must demonstrate the will to survive; this is natural selection at work. In the case of NY62, the elapsed time from the first hatch to the second may have been about 24 hours. Tom Lake.]

4/17 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: I was walking up the drive with a fistful of mail when I heard half-a-dozen unmistakable whistled notes. Earlier than expected, but nonetheless a thrill, to have Baltimore orioles with us again. (We usually count on seeing orioles the first week in May.)
- Christopher Letts

4/17 - Croton Point, HRM 33: It was a snappy morning. The ice on the puddles was a quarter-inch-thick and the winter cap and jacket felt just right. But the time of the blooming had arrived. That ethereal, ephemeral spring treat we call Dutchman's breeches was having its season. In less than a week the feathery ferny leaves had appeared and now they were crowned with the new blooms that gave the plant its common name. In a month, all will be gone, every vestige disappeared until another spring arrives.
- Christopher Letts

4/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: As another reminder of seasons lost, forsythia was in full bloom. In the past, this was the time when fishers would be mending their nets in the sunshine, oilskins coated with shad scales, delicious anticipation building for the next drift on the river.
- Tom Lake

[All commercial fishing for American shad ceased on the Hudson River in 2010. The closure was made necessary by the drastic decline in shad populations, primarily due to years of poorly regulated over-harvesting in coastal waters. Tom Lake.]

4/18 - Fishkill, HRM 61: With the lawn finally greening and daffodils and forsythia now abloom, love was in the air. A tom turkey may not have been doing the turkey trot, but he was sure strutting his stuff in full regalia with his tail fanned out and chest all puffed up. The iridescence of his feathers was just glowing. However, the lone hen turkey was definitely not interested. She continued to forage and totally ignored the tom's grand display.
- Ed Spaeth

4/18 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Lingering winter: It was 28 degrees F at dawn, justifying the firing of the wood stove one more time.
- Christopher Letts

4/19 - Greene County, HRM 133.5: There were two Bonaparte's gulls on the breakwater at Coeymans Landing around noon today.
- Richard Guthrie

one bonaparte's gull floating on water. gull has a black head and a grey body

4/19 - Croton River, HRM 34: We counted nine Bonaparte's gulls in the marsh, three in full breeding, black-headed plumage. (Photo of adult Bonaparte's gull by Dave Menke courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.)
- Larry Trachtenberg, Christopher Letts

[I think the increased presence of Bonaparte's gulls in our area is the result of the unusual freeze-up of the Great Lakes this winter that may have pushed a bunch of them south. A similar thing happened with red-necked grebes, red-breasted mergansers, and some other lake-wintering species. Rich Guthrie.]

4/20 - Hudson River Estuary: In addition to our fyke nets, our "eel mops" have also been productive in the effort to monitor the spring migration of glass eels (yearling American eels). Eel mops are a basketball-sized tangle of polypropylene tentacles placed in the tributary and used by glass eels as a very cozy way-station on their trip upstream. The mop can be lifted out and shaken, causing the eels to fall into a waiting bucket. In the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission literature I came across the perfect name for the mops: Medusa device.
- Chris Bowser

[Medusa was a priestess in Greek mythology. In a fit of anger, the Greek goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus, transformed Medusa's hair into a head of snakes. As the eel mop gyrates in the current, it conjures that image. Tom Lake.]

4/20 - Crugers, HRM 39: What a pleasant Easter surprise: The great blue heron, which we hadn't seen on Ogilvie's Pond since early March, appeared in its usual place on a flat-topped tree on the far side of the pond. It was wonderful to see its stately form and striking colors in the early afternoon sunlight. We wondered where it had been for the past seven weeks.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

4/21 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The clean white blossoms of shadbush were beginning to bloom. This plant was named, in part, because its flowers generally appeared at the time the American shad was beginning its spawning run up coastal estuaries. However, seasons have shifted over the last century (climate change), and its timing has become more aligned with the full throttle of the run.
For at least 6,000 years, probably beginning with harvest of giant oysters in the lower estuary by Algonquian people, folks fishing the river have gauged the pace of spring in the Hudson Valley by the appearance of flowers, a study called phenology. Those who worked on the estuary came to associate certain blooms with events in the river, such as the shadbush and the arrival from the sea of American shad and river herring. The progression moves in an orderly manner from magnolia to forsythia to shadbush to dogwood, with lilac being the final signal that spring is ready for summer.
- Tom Lake

[Phenology is the study of nature through the appearance of seasonal phenomena. The word comes from the Greek word phaino, meaning "to appear," or the Latin phenomenon, meaning "appearance, happening, display, or event." Tom Lake.]

4/21 - New Windsor, HRM 60: We watched what was likely a courtship ritual between a pair of pileated woodpeckers, taking place on the side of a tall poplar in our backyard. Their dance went on for awhile with their bright red head-top crests lit up brilliantly in the morning sunlight. These impressively large birds bobbed their heads and moved up and down the tree, occasionally fluttering their wings at each other. They also did some pecking - of the tree trunk - and when they were on the ground, of some of my tulips. When we went out later we saw several places where chunks of bark had been knocked away by their large and powerful beaks, and a few big holes in the leaves of our tulips.
- Joanne Zipay, Mariah Hernandez

4/22 - Poestenkill, HRM 151.5: We watched a small run of river herring at the mouth of the Poestenkill. The few we got to see closely were alewives, but there were a couple of smaller, shallow-bodied individuals that may have been blueback herring.
- Bob Schmidt, Bryan Weatherwax, Jeremy Wright

[It is not easy to differentiate river herring in the wild. In hand, alewives tend to be a bit slimmer and deep-bodied; blueback herring tend to be more terete (rounder) and shallow-bodied. But as they swim in the stream, they are nearly indistinguishable. Tom Lake.]

4/22 - Ulster County, HRM 87: While driving down Route 32 south of Kingston this morning, I spotted something large and bulky in the woods. What was this odd dark object? A stump? An old piece of machinery? As I whizzed past I saw clearly enough that is was a wild turkey in full display, his body feathers puffed, his tail in full spread, his red wattle quite distinct.
- Nancy W. Beard

4/22 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: In mid-morning the tide was approaching low, but river herring were still bumping along upstream. As they followed close by the shore we managed to catch seven of them, all males, all alewives - average total length 273 centimeters [cm]. We also saw a few white suckers, both male and female (males were exhibiting their breeding colors - a red lateral stripe). The water temperature was 55 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Differentiating between the two most common spring tributary migrants, white suckers and river herring, is fairly easy. White suckers ascend at a slow and steady pace; river herring are streamlined, all frenetic fits and starts, and built for speed. Tom Lake.]

4/22 - Moodna Creek, HRM 58: We walked through the forest, approaching the head of tide - in this case a man-made barrier. It was late morning, only an hour from low tide. There were far fewer herring in the stream compared to Quassaick Creek, and fewer still white suckers - we saw only two, along with a couple of sunfish. The water was a little warmer - 56 degrees F - than the Quassaick.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Identifying fish in their natural environment is a practiced skill. Short of snorkeling, which can be problematic in an estuary, the best way to identify fishes, especially in shallow water, is by developing a "sight image" based on their size, shape, color, swimming characteristics, and other behaviors. One of the best guides to this activity is C. Lavett Smith's Fish Watching: An Outdoor Guide to Freshwater Fishes (1994). "Smitty," as he is best known, is Curator Emeritus of Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, founder of our popular Hudson River Fish Fauna list, and an expert on the fishes of New York State. Tom Lake.]

4/22 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: There was a flash of scarlet and a thump; a male cardinal bounced off the kitchen window not two feet in front of my face. It landed in a shrub a few feet away, ruffled but uninjured. Before it could recover, however, a Cooper's hawk snatched it and was off. The image stayed fresh in my mind throughout the day, with many varied emotions, mostly of regret. The bird and I had something of a relationship, but the same was true with the Cooper's hawk - both cheered me whenever, and in whatever way, I was aware of their presence.
- Christopher Letts

4/22 - Croton River, HRM 34: At low tide, the exposed inshore flats were almost veiled in a swirl of low-flying swallows. Most were tree swallows, but rough-winged swallows had returned, in force. They were drawn to the tide line debris, checking out select pieces of grass and leaves. But I did not see the birds leaving with nesting material. Just window shopping?
- Christopher Letts

4/22 - Inwood Hill Park, HRM 12.5: I watched a great egret fishing at low tide in the bay at Inwood Park. The bird waded, flew from place to place, and apparently caught several fish. Near the foot of the Clove, sparrows, robins and mourning doves were taking turns bathing in a tiny, spring-fed pool. Very little was blooming, just daffodils and a few patches of lesser celandine, but bumblebees were out looking.
- Thomas Shoesmith

about 10 river herring in a creek

4/23 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: In late afternoon, the low tide was turning to flood and river herring were following the rise upstream. Near the head of tide, nearly two miles from the river, herring were finding rapids and the fall line impassible. We collected five herring, all males, all alewives (average total length 254 cm). The water was 55 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[This year, the DEC's Hudson River Estuary Program staff are focusing on a handful of tributaries where it's unknown if river herring make it to the first human-made barrier upstream from the river. Herring monitors are going out to the foot of barriers on seven different tributaries. If herring are found, we'll have a better data set to prioritize barriers that need more detailed studies, with the long-term goal of re-opening habitat for herring. Andrew Meyer. Photo of river herring courtesy Laura Heady.]

4/23 - Fishkill Creek, HRM 60: In a persistent drizzle that made reading the water difficult, we moved upstream, pool-to-pool in Madam Brett Park, looking for river herring. Our focus was a location that is just above the reach of tide except in those rare occasions of extreme moon tides or storm surge. Several anglers were present; in their parlance "the herring were all over." One angler had caught a 23-inch-long striped bass that morning on chunk herring). While we could not verify that they were all over, we did find twelve to fifteen herring circling in a pool at the rapids just below Tioranda Dam, the first impassable barrier. The water was 54 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

4/23 - Hudson River Estuary: The big news in glass eels this week occurred in Poughkeepsie and Newburgh. Today there were 800 glass eels in the Quassaick fyke net and a whopping 1,054 in the Fall Kill net. For the latter, that was the biggest one-day total since we started there in 2008.
- Chris Bowser

[A fyke net is a collection device used most often for fish, but occasionally for turtles. Most are a series of hoops in a tunnel of net ten to twelve feet long, through which fish pass on their way to a "cod end" where captured fish accumulate. When used in a Hudson River tributary, fykes are set facing downstream to collect fish, such as eels, heading upstream. At the downstream opening, a section of netting is angled away on either side from the initial hoop to guide fish towards the mouth of the net. Tom Lake.]

[Congratulations to Chris Bowser, who this week received an Environmental Quality Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for his leadership of DEC's Hudson estuary glass eel migration study project. Thanks to Chris' abilities to educate, energize and inspire, the school classes, youth group members, college undergraduates, and community volunteers who participate have contributed needed data to fisheries managers; helped over 100,000 young eels over in-stream barriers; and in the process learned to recognize and value the ecological links between the sea and freshwater rivers and watersheds. Steve Stanne.]

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