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Hudson River Almanac April 24 - April 30, 2014

OVERVIEW

Moments that define the season: river herring and seals; eagles and their eaglets; birds and their courtship games. All were on display this week.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

4/27 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: We had just arrived for some birding at Waterfront Park in Coxsackie when we noticed an animal in the river. Grabbing our binoculars - which we really didn't need, the critter was so close - we saw that it was a seal swimming parallel to the shore, only about 30 feet away. We both got a good look and made a positive identification before it dove. We saw it or another seal again, farther off shore. Although we were patient, we did not see it after that.
- Elizabeth Strickler, Frank Strickler

[A cryptic description suggests that this was a harbor seal in from the sea. Other possibilities would be gray, hooded, or harp seal, although the vast majority of estuary seal sightings are harbor seals. Most, if not all, are drawn up the river each spring in pursuit of shad and river herring. In times past, when commercial shad and herring nets were common in the estuary, rivermen tending their nets would find that captured shad and herring had their heads bitten off. For seals, these nets must have seemed like a 24-hour buffet. Tom Lake.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

4/24 - Minerva, HRM 284: Spring continued to arrive even though the air temperature dropped into the 20s last night. Three evenings ago I heard my first spring peeper - one solitary peeper trying to get its little peep going amongst the fairly impressive barrage of wood frogs. It is always a pleasure to hear the wood frogs that come before the peepers, that in turn get cooking before the toads. Robins, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, and phoebes were all back and singing, and the ice was nearly off the ponds.
- Mike Corey

4/24 - Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: I was still looking for the first female river herring in this tidal tributary. I caught five alewives today, all males. The females are here; I'm just having no luck finding them, for no reason other than noting their presence. Today's herring averaged 248 millimeters [mm] total length [TL].
- Tom Lake

[In the last weekly Almanac, I mistakenly used centimeters [cm] instead of millimeters when noting the average size of river herring. All sizes should have been in millimeters. The lengths in centimeters that I used would have made our river herring the size of sturgeon. Tom Lake.]

4/24 - Moodna Creek, HRM 58: The vagaries of tidewater were on full display today. For two hours at midday I searched a mile of stream-side and did not see a single herring. This was a reach of the tributary that had teemed with herring two days ago. The water was crystal clear but very empty. Following near freezing overnight air temperatures in the Moodna watershed, the water temperature had dropped to 51 degrees Fahrenheit from 56 two days ago. Cause and effect?
- Tom Lake

4/24 - Palisades, HRM 23: A tree swallow pair were gathering nesting materials for their box at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory this morning. This was my first sighting of them this year.
- Linda Pistolesi

4/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie: As we arrived at our observation point, the adult male from eagle nest NY62 flew in from the river low across our field of view with a foot-long river herring in his talons, landed in the nest, and offered the fish to the female. We guessed that she processed it for the nestlings. An hour later the female lifted off, flew south over a newly-mowed lawn and, in a lightning-quick move, snatched a gray squirrel off the grass. She continued on into the forest with her catch.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[One of the most important revelations of science has been the recognition of ecological connectivity between distant points on the planet. A month ago, the herring being consumed by the eaglets was hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean, acquiring its energy from the sea. That energy migrated from the ocean, into the estuary, into tributaries, and finally into the uplands to support terrestrial life. Tom Lake.]

barred owl in a tree colored brown and white

4/25 - Hopewell Junction, HRM 67: For the last several days, two barred owls have been visiting in the evening. One would arrive and call out "Who cooks for you" until it received a reply. The badgering crows usually gave away their general location. Their camouflage coloring and silent flight made it near impossible to find them otherwise. [Photo of barred owl courtesy Tom McDowell.]
- Tom McDowell

4/25 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The "Alpha" chick seemed to have lost some of its dominance and both nestlings in NY62 appear almost equally developed. Both now show defined feather buds on the back of their heads and wings. They entertain themselves by rearranging small twigs in the nest. Feeding intervals, provided by Dad, occurred about an hour apart. Except for an occasional fly around, Mom remains in the nest, serving as chef.
- Tom McDowell

4/25 - Croton Point, HRM 35: The tiny patch of wooded swamp on the northeast side of the Point always seems to hold something of interest. Today it was a winter wren and a pair of woodchucks. Three kestrels were perched on the landfill and a harrier dipped and soared - females all.
- Christopher Letts

4/26 - Greene County, HRM 124-121: A rainy forecast kept the group small, but the five of us had a good morning of birding. Five grebes, four horned and a red-necked, landed briefly on the river as I arrived at Coxsackie to meet the group. By the end of the trip, we had two osprey and two bald eagles. At Four Mile Point Road, we discovered that striped bass season had started (a 44-inch-long fish had been caught before we arrived). Four surf scoters flew upriver past the point, and four greater yellowlegs flew over vocalizing. The best bird of the trip was a snowy egret at Vosburgh Swamp. The abundant spicebushes were in bloom with lots of small yellow flowers.
- Alan Mapes

a male and female american kestrel in a branch passing a small snake between them

4/26 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: We were alerted to a pair of American kestrels at the site near the Mills Mansion State Park where we have been observing a rare red-headed woodpecker. Since I am co-monitoring a pair of kestrel boxes across the street in Dinsmore Golf Course, I am interested in kestrel behavior in this area. I did not have to wait very long; a female kestrel flew in and landed in a tree 150 feet away. She preened and sat in the sun and within ten minutes started calling. A male kestrel flew in with a small snake for her. He passed the prey to her and watched for a few minutes before flying off. He provided a total of four snakes to her within the 45 minutes I watched. She slurped them up like strands of spaghetti. [Photo of male American kestrel (right) passing snake to female kestrel courtesy Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Deb Kral

[After viewing digital photos, Jesse Jaycox suggested they might be ring-necked snakes. Larry Federman offered brown snakes as another possibility.]

a 15 inch long rudd, a fish, held in a person's gloved hands

4/26 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Nineteen anglers (ten adults, nine children) turned out for our public fishing program. The day was gorgeous, and that helped, because the fishing was slow. In the end we had caught only fifteen fish, thirteen of which were brown bullheads. The largest fish was a fifteen-inch-long rudd; the only uncommon species was a ten-inch-long yellow bullhead. The river temperature was 48 degrees F.
- Tom Lake, John Plass, T.R. Jackson

[Rudd are a large, introduced European minnow that has been in the Hudson watershed since the 1920s and seems to be getting more common in the estuary. It is a stubby, deep-bodied fish with really bright red fins, including the tail. Bob Schmidt. Photo of rudd courtesy Steve Stanne.]

4/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adults seem to be spending much of their time perched above the nest, as the eaglets take up lots of space with their aggressive growing. While Mom always seems to offer the same amount of food to both eaglets, today for some reason Dad (a surprise in itself) seemed to favor one over the other. The other eaglet had to jump in several times to grab the food before its sibling got it.
- Terry Hardy

4/26 - Crugers, HRM 39.5: We had a pileated woodpecker vigorously working on an old tree stump in the yard this morning.
- Jim Grefig

4/27 - Milan, HRM 90: I saw a large raptor flying through the forest canopy today and thought it was an owl. It landed nearby where I could get a good look at it. Not an owl, but a big-bodied gray-to-white hawk with distinct dark bands on its tail. It flew off, again staying within the tree canopy. My first goshawk.
- Dan Miller

4/28 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Ninth and tenth-graders from O'Neill High School in Highland Falls (Orange County) helped us sample the river today with our seine. The season was young, the river was cold, and the fish were fewer, so our expectations were limited. However, the students were more than pleased as we beached the net and the bag held a good collection of spottail shiners and banded killifish - fish with interesting stories to tell. Surprisingly, the shallow bay was only marginally warmer (48 degrees F) than the river itself.
- Tom Lake

4/28 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I stopped by eagle nest NY62 in midmorning. The adult male was in the nest with the two eaglets and the female was perched close by. Mom left her perch and then returned shortly with a foot-long American eel. Dad then tended to the feeding for the entire morning.
- Tom McDowell

4/29 - Milan, HRM 90: A large wild tom turkey was in the back yard in full display. I was unable to locate the object of his affection until he approached the bird bath, not once but twice, before he dropped his tail and walked away. So much for a turkey's keen eyesight!
- Marty Otter

4/29 - Breakneck Brook, HRM 55.5: We watched a swirl of about seven river herring in a pool where the brook meets the head of tide, less than a hundred meters from the river. Breakneck Brook tumbles down the fall line between Mount Taurus and Breakneck Ridge in the Hudson Highlands. The midday high tide (new moon tide) had greatly expanded the breadth of the brook and it was impossible to tell if these herring were just poking their noses in there or seriously looking to stay awhile. The river was still too cold (48 degrees F) for spawning. In 1996-1997, while investigating this little brook for a Polgar Fellowship, I witnesses a similar springtime "milling around" of alewives inside the mouth of the brook.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[The fall line is a geologic term, often applied to tidewater and associated with sea level. It is the point at which the rise in elevation of the land, natural falls or rapids, precludes the reach of tide. Fall lines often occur at the border between uplands of resistant bedrock and coastal plains of less-resistant rock or sediments. Tom Lake.]

4/30 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a bit cool and breezy this morning, but my colleague and I got up before dawn to conduct a survey of drumming ruffed grouse. Between us we heard fourteen different males drumming at a total of thirty-two stops. That is an average spring morning for us. Being out and about at daybreak is always enjoyable, especially when the leaves are off the trees and we can more easily spot other creatures like this morning's red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks.
- Charlotte Demers

4/30 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: In the wake of a quick and substantial rainfall (3.35 inches), we had to get our glass eel fyke net out of the water before the furiously-running creek claimed it. We succeeded and found 50 glass eels in the net. There was a time a decade ago when 50 glass eels would have been a fabulous number. However, in light of the recent resurgence of their springtime numbers in many tributaries, 50 was just average. The creek was 48 degrees F.
- Caitlin Zinsley, Zoraida Maloney

4/30 - Croton River, HRM 34: The Croton River, downstream from the Croton Reservoir dam, roared as it galloped over its banks in flood. Upriver, at the dam, water billowed and thundered in great mounds over the spillway, filling the air with rainbowed mist. At every season, the spillway of the Croton Dam is a glorious sight; sometimes, as it was today, it is also awesome in the fullest sense of that word.
- Robin Fox

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