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Hudson River Almanac May 1 - May 7, 2014

OVERVIEW

Even with a slowly-arriving spring, by the first week of May we've caught up and see orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, the surge of warblers, and our first ruby-throated hummingbirds.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/1 - Haverstraw Bay, HRM 35: It was overcast and foggy on the Hudson River this morning as we set our research nets in the river at the south end of Haverstraw Bay, looking for juvenile sturgeon. We had just finished when we looked up to see a peregrine falcon circling and then flying off. The falcon had been chasing a small bird that was now taking refuge on our boat. It was a yellow-rumped warbler that appeared quite out of breath and was hiding between two buoys that we had hanging from our console. The little bird hung out on the boat for a few minutes until it felt like the coast was clear and then flew off into the mist toward shore. How lucky that we were there to provide a safe harbor!
- Jess Best, Russ Berdan

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/1 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: I spotted a mink beside the stream in my yard this morning. It was running along just above the waterline, a mouse dangling from its mouth, before disappearing under the grasses overhanging the bank. It's been 26 years since I last saw a mink here, so getting a glimpse of this little neighbor made my day. I love knowing that there is a rarely seen but fully present parallel world of wildlife that know this piece of land as their land.
- Melissa Fischer

black and white bobolink on a plant

5/1 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: I looked for kestrels but there were none. As the rain ended (3.3 inches), fog swept in and crept up on the landfill - it seemed like Brigadoon. Near the crest a large rain puddle was rich with birds; wood ducks and mallards took off as I approached and then a flock of bobolinks, the first I'd seen this spring. Rough-winged, tree, and cliff swallows were thick in the air. Down on the seawall there was talk of stripers up to 35 lb. that had been taken, but none today. [Photo of bobolink by Steve Maslowski, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Christopher Letts

[Brigadoon is a Broadway musical, as well as a 1954 movie, about an ethereal and ephemeral Scottish village that emerges out of the mist every hundred years, for one day. Tom Lake.]

5/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Trout lily leaves were up and a few spring beauties were in bloom along with coltsfoot. A sighting two days ago of a yellow-rumped warbler was the first confirmed sighting of a warbler this season.
- Charlotte Demers

5/2 - Hudson, HRM 118: At the beginning of the school year, October 2013, a group of students from Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School in the City of Hudson participated in the Hudson Bluehawk Nation Afterschool Program. I met with these students for weekly visits to the Hudson River as part of the "Splash Team." One of our activities was to write a message in a bottle that was tossed into the tide. Imagine our surprise when seven months later a reply was sent back telling us that one particular message was found south of our toss site. It really didn't go too far, or maybe it did, and the tides brought it back? We'll never know for sure.
- Fran Martino

close up of a ruby-crowned kinglet, a small grey birt with a reddish spot on its head

5/2 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: It was a surprising day of birding, from the one of the tiniest to the one of the largest of our birds. The tiniest was a male ruby-crowned kinglet with his crest in flare mode. Then I saw and heard an osprey overhead, close enough to see its beautiful markings. Approaching the Norrie Point Marina, I saw two of them rising on thermals. What a day of contrasts! [Photo of ruby-crowned kinglet by Donna Dewhurst, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Pat Joel

5/2 - Town of Lagrange, HRM 69: Returning from an afternoon walk to Hillside Lake, I startled a sharp-shinned hawk halfway through a meal of a small bird. The wind had picked up and the hawk was sitting in the leeward side of my neighbor's white pines with a line of grey feathers behind. I was fairly close and I sensed that it was thinking about leaving its meal. But the sharpie decided to stay and wait me out. I watched with my binoculars while blue jays sounded the alarm.
- Denise McGuinness

5/2 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released four carp, the largest of which was 11 lb. and 28 inches. There was also a channel catfish, a brown bullhead, and a golden shiner. Something was stealing my bait all day, and the capture of the golden shiner gave me a good clue as to the culprit.
- Bill Greene

5/2 - Quassaick Creek, HRM 60: We stopped at the creek in late morning to see how the glass eel fyke research net was faring. The Quassaick was roaring but the fyke was holding well. As we approached we saw an immature red-tailed hawk perched on a wing of the net. It was pecking at a fish, an alewife, that was lying in a fold of the fyke. We watched until the bird had enough, lifted off, and flew away. The alewife must have gotten a bit frisky running up the shoreline, flipped onto the net, and been stranded. While red-tails are not known as "fish hawks," they are well-known as opportunists.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/2 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The beach was lined with striped bass anglers, rods in sand spikes, bait lying out in the shallows waiting. Springtime striper fishing requires much patience and is not for everyone. The bait, in this case a chunk of river herring, might rest on the sand more than a hundred feet offshore for hours without a hit. Or it might get picked up immediately by a bass; then the chase is on. We saw a couple of twenty-inch-long striped bass landed while we were there. Expectations with our 85-foot beach seine were much less ambitious. We caught a small mix of spottail shiners, white perch, and several gravid (with eggs) female yellow perch. The yellow perch defined the season every bit as much as the stripers. The river was 56 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Kowawese is a 102-acre park site directly on the Hudson River in New Windsor, owned by New York State and managed by the Orange County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Conservation. Tom Lake.]

5/2 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Hummingbirds arrived two days earlier than last year and I hoped they would find flowers to feed on. I had been sitting outdoors, enjoying spring, when I heard that familiar "whirr." I slowly turned to look, and there was a perfect male ruby-throated hummingbird eighteen inches away.
- Robin Fox

5/2 - Croton on Hudson, HRM 35: As I looked at the spruce tree outside my window, not only did I see the typical white-breasted nuthatch and downy woodpecker, but my first-of-spring black-and-white warbler. The big rainstorm had brought our first wave of warblers.
- Jeff Weber

5/2 - Palisades, HRM 23: As I left Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, I was called to the far end of the parking lot by the song of an orchard oriole. I found him singing in the same area where last year I watched a male, perhaps the same one, fighting his reflection in a car's side mirror.
- Linda Pistolesi

5/2 - Piermont Pier, HRM 25: The sun was hidden but the air temperature was perfect for a lunchtime walk on the pier. A northern waterthrush was teetering about the edge of a muddy pool and a raft of ruddy ducks floated south of the pier.
- Linda Pistolesi, Margie Turrin

5/3 - Dutchess County, HRM 98.5: I spent some time around the mouth of the Saw Kill today, and the stream was loaded with fish. I saw numerous spawning alewives and white suckers all the way up to the waterfall (first impassable barrier). I watched alewives and white suckers spawning right next to each other. It had been a long time since I saw so many alewives in this stream. I even caught two alewives on an artificial lure, a new experience for me.
- Bob Schmidt

rose-breasted gross beak - black and white bird with red breast on a branch

5/3 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: A beautiful rose-breasted grosbeak graced our flowering Bradford pear tree this morning and an indigo bunting joined the goldfinch crowd at our feeder. Talk about a feast for the eyes! [Photo of rose-breasted grosbeak by Dave Brezinski, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
- Barbara Wells

5/3 - New Paltz, HRM 78: While walking through the Lenape Road pastures I saw my first male bobolink of the spring perched on one of the fence posts.
- Bob Ottens

5/3 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: Hummingbirds returned to their feeders today, the same day that the Carolina wrens that shared our winter took up residence in their last year's home.
- Dennis Reedy, Pat Reedy

[The first hummingbirds we see in May are not necessarily those that spent last summer with us. As hummingbirds migrate upriver to more northern breeding areas, they stop at our feeders, grateful for the supplement to the new spring flowers. Tom Lake.]

5/3 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: This morning I spotted a green heron at the edge of the pond beyond my deck, probably one of a pair that spent time here last year and several years before.
- Phyllis Marsteller

5/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie: On Day 35 in eagle nest NY62, Mom and Dad continued to share nest-watching duties, including well-timed arrival and departure with both food and sentry duty. They are a well-synchronized team. Reflecting back on fourteen years with this pair, their "teamwork" is much more obvious when there are two nestlings rather than one.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/4 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The spring bird migration parade continued with a male and two female rose-breasted grosbeaks showing up my feeder this morning and a red-eyed vireo singing outside my window. My neighbor reported seeing an eastern bluebird in her field yesterday.
- Charlotte Demers

5/4 - Poughkeepsie, HRM 78: This was the first time we had seen a rose-breasted grosbeak on our feeder in the many years we have been feeding birds.
- Victor Penneslake

5/4 - Peekskill, HRM 43: As dusk was setting in, a flash of blue caught my eye; an indigo bunting was eating seeds under my feeders that hang from a flowering dogwood. I wonder if the bird was attracted by the tree's unfolding white bracts. Chimney swifts - those "flying cigars" - were also in town. With the Hudson River flyway less than a mile away and a woodland nearby, even my small urban lot with its native flora becomes a worthy stopover.
- Carol Capobianco

5/4 - George's Island, HRM 39: I have a great fondness for this piece of real estate. So much diversity - it rivals any piece of land I can think of, at least in this region. The mazzard cherries were in bloom today, and every breeze sent a snow-shower of petals. Down along the seawall a dozen spotted sandpipers were foraging along the tideline. Along the wooded trails, yellow warblers and common yellowthroats were almost within arm's reach. I had the pleasure of listening to three species of mimic thrushes at one time, and this is a reliable spot to find brown thrashers. In another few days, the canopy will light up with the orange flashes of orioles, and the background music will be enriched by the songs of cuckoos and wood thrushes.
- Christopher Letts

5/5 - Greene County, HRM 112: Another "birdy" day at the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary. Among the new arrivals were blue-winged warbler, American redstart, common yellowthroat, wood thrush, rose-breasted grosbeak and, the highlight, a Lincoln's sparrow!
- Larry Federman

5/5 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Claiming our first hummingbird of the season can be presumptuous, really only a function of timing. Since hummingbirds have been seen by other observers for a week now, I'm guessing today's was just the first I saw. It was a single male, and he will be the Lord of the Manor until other males arrive.
- Tom Lake

[Male ruby-throated hummingbirds generally arrive in their breeding territories ahead of the females. Other birds do this as well, including the red-winged blackbird. Tom Lake.]

5/6 - Beacon, HRM 61: The river at Long Dock was 55 degrees F and, not unexpectedly with all of the rain and snowmelt in the watershed, the salinity was zero. With the early season and cool water, our expectations were limited, but we managed to catch a nice mix of banded killifish; pumpkinseed sunfish; white perch; spottail shiners; and a "shoe-string" eel.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Shoe-string eel is a colloquial name often used by anglers to describe a 6-8-inch-long American eel. This is a highly effective size to live-line for striped bass. The DEC has a slot-size regulation for American eel; from the Federal Dam at Troy to the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, eels 6-14 inches long may be caught to use as bait. Tom Lake.]

5/6 - Westchester County, HRM 30: The bountiful migration fall-out of the past week that brought birders flocking to Central Park had also extended to Rockefeller State Park. During short visits we counted thirteen warbler species. These included abundant American redstarts, black-throated blue, black-throated green, chestnut-sided, blue-winged and yellow warblers, plus Louisiana waterthrush and common yellowthroat. Other new arrivals included beautiful scarlet tanagers, Baltimore and orchard orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, blue-headed vireo, and three species of thrush. It's a great spring, finally!
- Joe Wallace, Sharon AvRutick

5/6 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Dogwoods and redbuds were blooming and orchard and Baltimore orioles were everywhere. The canopy pulsated with warblers. A small task force of blue-gray gnatcatchers did a thorough inspection of the stone walls and garden fences, finding something to make it worth their while. A raven flew over, calling loudly, with a pair of fish crows in timorous pursuit. Sight or sound of these increasingly common corvids always touches up the day - such a special bird and reminiscent of far, exotic places.
- Christopher Letts

5/7 - Cheviot, HRM 106: Inching my way upstream from the river in Cheviot Brook - hiking, wading, scrambling - I found a series of small pools, some tidal, some above the reach of tide, most with killifish and not much else. Just as I thought I would come back empty-handed, I found a small pool where a half-dozen river herring were swirling. I was able to dip-net two, both alewives, both males (253 and 269 millimeters [mm] total length). The water was 53 degrees F.
- Tom Lake

[An Almanac reader, in response to entries where we note the sex of river herring, asked a question: How do we know? Without getting intrusive, you can only reliably "sex" a river herring during spawning season. Males have a tapered abdomen, and if you gently squeeze them they will release white milt. Females, on the other hand, have abdomens distended with roe. With a fish in hand, it is easy to tell the difference. Once they have spawned, a term we call "spent," it gets a little trickier. Milt and eggs are gone but from looking at the taper of the abdomen you can still make a good guess. Outside spawning season, especially with immature herring, you have to conduct an internal exam. Tom Lake.]

5/7 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: I spotted a raft of about 75 waterfowl offshore near Esopus Island. They were riding low in the water, holding their necks and heads up in the profile of cormorants. They drifted north, but one peeled away and flew back to the island - then another one, then two or three more. At that point I saw where they were heading: there was a tree on the island where a dozen cormorants perched. Then I saw a second tree, also filled with cormorants.
- Pat Joel

5/7 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: My morning walks generally take me around the big landfill on the service road. Beginning in May, in anticipation of bobolinks, I start taking the steeper road, up and over the top. Yesterday, a lovely male serenaded me, first perched and then aerially. Today a flock of three dozen swept past me, moving northeast and on the move. No songs today.
- Christopher Letts

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