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Hudson River Almanac May 8 - May 14, 2014

OVERVIEW

While songbirds and springtime continued to highlight the month, fish were easily the co-feature as educators and recreational anglers took to the river for knowledge and adventure.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/14 - Beacon, HRM 61: The New York State inland sportfishing record for striped bass (55 lb. 6 oz., caught May 2007) was broken today by Eric Lester. His 60 lb. striped bass was caught on a bloodworm just below the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.
- Dick Nelson

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/8 - Newcomb, HRM 302: New avian arrivals in the last several days have included blue-headed vireo, Swainson's thrush, ovenbird, scarlet tanager, black-and-white warbler, and white-crowned sparrow. We also had a first for Essex County: a surf scoter was spotted on Rich Lake. An experienced birder made the identification and more than twenty students from SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry's Ranger School in Wanakena also got a chance to see this rarity. It was mixed in with a flock of ring-necked ducks. Red maples were in full bloom and cover the hillside with a lovely blush.
- Charlotte Demers

5/8 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: The string of small exposed bedrock reefs that trail off the north end of Esopus Island was lined single-file with cormorants. When they all took off they created quite a scene. A large tree on the island housed a multitude of them and some birds in their midst showed white breasts. These roosting birds appeared to be a mix of adult and immature double-crested cormorants.
- Roland Ellis

5/8 - New Paltz, HRM 78: I looked out the window in midday and spotted a pair of white-crowned sparrows in a crabapple tree near the bird feeder. I've been watching backyard birds in Ulster County my entire life (51 years) and had never seen one before.
- Jason Taylor

5/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The adult female eagle hung around the nest (NY62) this morning. It seemed odd that no feeding had taken place and the male was nowhere around. The nestlings played around for an hour and then went down, it seemed, for a nap. In early afternoon Mom took off, returned in twenty-five minutes with fish, and fed both nestlings. The larger nestling acted like it was "making believe" feeding the smaller one.
- Judy Winter

5/8 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Until late today, our 60-foot-tall sweet gum looked like a Halloween prop, cloaked in dead leaves, the result of last year's 17-year periodical cicada emergence that had defoliated the tree. Then, from the recent rain and warmth, a green leaf-bud appeared, then another ... With luck, our tree will recover.
- Tom Lake

[Along this reach of the river, the major period of the seventeen-year periodical cicada emergence in 2013 lasted 42 days, ending on July 3. At its height, the din was deafening and many if not most of the area's hardwoods lost more than half of their leaves. Tom Lake.]

5/8 - Town of Cortlandt, HRM 38.5: Furnace Brook was swollen with runoff and I looked in vain for signs of fish life. Almost overhead a wood thrush began singing and that ended my forward progress for a long while. Once common nesters here, these days we have to get our fill while they are moving through.
- Christopher Letts

5/8 - Ossining, HRM 33: We noticed a pair of Canada geese on the front lawn at Mariandale that seemed to be concentrating on something in the grass about a foot away. Upon closer inspection, we found that the object in the grass was a skunk, flat on its belly, busily eating away. It was interesting to see the three of them together in what would have made a great photo.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

5/9 - Minerva, HRM 284: On the way down to the pond in our "back forty," I heard my first warblers of the spring, an ovenbird and a yellow-rumped warbler. Through the woods and way off in the distance I heard a barred owl and a pileated woodpecker. At the pond, there were red-winged blackbirds, a pied-billed grebe, an oddly solitary Canada goose, and a single common merganser A few peepers were peeping and bloodroot (one of the most beautiful wildflowers) was in bloom.
Breeding Bird Atlas map - common merganser 1980-85 a - Mike Corey

merganser breeding locations, 1980-85. less breeding locations than map of 2000-2005

5/9 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: There was a pair of common mergansers engaged in courtship-type activity across the river from my house this morning. Yesterday, there were eight of them two miles upriver at Coeyman's Landing (six females and two males). They have nested in the area in the past, but it seems that the number of nesters and potential nesters in this region has been increasing over the years. I'm wondering if anyone else has had this impression.
- Richard Guthrie

Breeding Bird Atlas map - common merganser 2000-05 a[New York State Breeding Bird Atlas data show a notable expansion in the distribution of breeding common mergansers between 1980-1985 and 2000-2005. According to the Atlas, "It was likely common throughout pre-colonial New York and declined in numbers after the destruction of the forests." Tree cavities are the merganser's preferred nesting sited; given its large size, this bird needed habitats with older, bigger trees to find sizable cavities. The Atlas goes on: "The maturation of trees in reforested areas has provided more potential nesting cavities. This, and the improvement of stream quality over the last four decades, could be factors in the common merganser's reclamation of its former breeding range." Steve Stanne.]

merganser locations in New York State, 2000-2005

5/9 - West Hurley, HRM 93: I just saw my first hummingbird of the season today. I had to stop offering birdseed because the bears are awake, but now I can set out the hummingbird feeders.
- Roberta Jeracka

5/9 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: We returned home from a vacation to find a pair of hummingbirds waiting for us. A male Baltimore oriole showed up for his usual brief visit and a pair of indigo buntings made an appearance for the first time ever.
- Peter Fanelli

5/9 - Putnam County, HRM 54: The recent weather brought migrating birds flocking to our woods on East Mountain at Copperhead Cut. We had at least five male rose-breasted grosbeaks along with Baltimore orioles, hummingbirds, and indigo buntings. Veery and other thrushes all contributed to the chorus from the fields and woods.
- Connie Mayer-Bakall, Dylan Jeannotte

5/9 - George's Island, HRM 39: The lilacs were in bloom and so were the orioles. Orange and black seemed to flash from every tree. Was there a minute in the hour spent here, when at least one was not either in sight or in hearing? This was May, the way it is in the dreams of January.
- Christopher Letts

[Lilacs in bloom. In the timely progression of flowers that move up the river each spring - magnolia, forsythia, shadbush, dogwood - lilac is one of the last. In the times of commercial shad fishing, lilacs in bloom signified that the spawning run was ending. It was believed that the "lilac shad," primarily females, were the biggest fish of the season. And then it was just about time to hang up the nets for another year. Tom Lake.]

5/9 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Two strong storms came through the area this morning and the birds were active. It wasn't a typical "fallout" but there were dense numbers of migrants in very foggy conditions. We spotted three male scarlet tanagers, three Lincoln's sparrows, and multiple white-crowned sparrows. There were more than twenty species of warblers on the Point including Cape May, Wilson's, bay-breasted, and a Blackburnian - it seemed like there were warblers in every tree. More evidence of fallout-like conditions was a huge flock of bobolinks. Least sandpipers and spotted sandpipers occupied almost every puddle on the Point.
- Kyle Bardwell, Charlie Roberto

["Fallout" is a term used by birders to describe a sudden dropping to earth - forced landings - of large and diverse numbers of migratory birds, usually due to intense weather such as wind and storms. Tom Lake.]

5/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: The osprey nest atop the cell tower was already impressive, but the birds were not yet done. This morning I watched an adult arrive from the lower river with a stick the size of a broom handle. Eight Bonaparte's gulls were skimming and dipping, so tern-like and graceful compared with their clunkier and chunkier cousins. Dunlin foraged along the shore.
- Christopher Letts

5/10 - Yorktown, HRM 43: Today was one of the rare occasions that I actually got to watch our feeders for an extended period. Much to my joy and amazement, I spotted two pairs of rose breasted grosbeaks sharing two tube feeders with some difficulty. They seemed to be unfamiliar with vertical wire-covered tubes. They flew off due to the flashy arrival of a male red-bellied woodpecker. While waiting for them to return, a beautiful male indigo bunting appeared; this was our first sighting of this species in our yard in 25 years.
- Walt Fowler

5/10 - Cortlandt Manor, HRM 38.5: Gray treefrogs were calling loud and proud on this wet and warm spring day.
- Michael Fraatz

5/10 - Bedford, HRM 35: We stopped to watch the impressive great blue heron rookery. There were about twenty nests high up in many of the dead trees in the swampy area. About one-quarter of the nests had a single adult standing on the edge, preening and giving the appearance of standing guard. Started two years ago, this is the only known rookery in Westchester County.
- Jim Steck

5/11 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Today capped a beautiful spring weekend in the Adirondacks with air temperatures hitting the 70s, clear skies, and a bit of a breeze. The birds were making the most of the day. I watched two male and one female bluebirds, a pair of black-capped chickadees, and assorted tree swallows squabble over two bird boxes for more than two hours. I have often watched swallows and bluebirds interact over a box but on this occasion I watched the male bluebirds actively chase the chickadees away. I finally put up a third box (hoping the chickadees would utilize that one) about twenty feet away and moved a fourth box into the mix as well. Hopefully everyone will find a box that is acceptable. I put out my hummingbird feeder after spotting a ruby-throated hummingbird while spying on the "Battle of the Boxes." It took him less than an hour to find the feeder. To my relief, no battles ensued over the feeder. Yet.
- Charlotte Demers

5/11 - Palenville, Greene County, HRM 110: For the first time at our feeders we had a pair of Baltimore orioles eating seed and suet. We added an orange half, but they still went to the other foods. In addition to the orioles, several rose-breasted grosbeaks continued at the feeders as well as hummingbirds (within two minutes of putting the feeder up). The larger-than-usual number of American goldfinches continued as well. Black-throated-green warblers, black-and-white warblers, and American redstarts were singing all day.
- Larry Federman

northern water snake in a tree branch above water

5/11 - Ulster County, HRM 78: It was a glorious spring day at the Mohonk Preserve's Duck Pond, and northern water snakes were making the most of it. Along 50 feet of shoreline there were at least half a dozen. Some were draped over branches, taking in the sun. One was hunting minnows clustered around bread chunks tossed in water by a young boy. A large female snake was the object of amorous advances from a number of smaller males; on the whole, she seemed pretty oblivious. [Photo of northern water snake courtesy Steve Stanne.]
- Steve Stanne

5/11 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: Since hummingbird arrivals seem to coincide with lilacs in bloom, I put up my feeders yesterday. Today two males were each claiming it as theirs.
- Barbara Wells

5/11 - Crugers, HRM 39: The great blue heron returned! Last sighted on Ogilvie's Pond at Easter, we received a Mother's Day gift today when we spotted the heron on the far side of the pond. It spread its huge wings and flew up onto a branch over the water. Spatterdock was beginning to overtake the pond waters, seemingly sprouting up overnight.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

5/12 - Croton Point, HRM 35: Early this morning I spotted a male ring-necked pheasant at the entrance to Croton Point. This was my first in Westchester County in many years. [On May 6, Trini Garro also saw a male ring-necked pheasant, in positively psychedelic colors with a bright red breast, in the Town of Lloyd. "The most beautiful bird I have had the pleasure of seeing."]
- Larry Trachtenberg

[The ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is native to Asia but has been extensively introduced into North America and raised as a game bird. Overall, its population in New York has declined due to disappearance of fallow grasslands, farming practices tending towards monotypic crops, and loss of field habitat due to reforestation and urbanization. Seasonal holdovers from hunt club introductions find it difficult to survive in the presence of robust coyote and fox populations in the Hudson Valley. Tom Lake, Steve Stanne.]

5/12 - Brooklyn, New York City: It was like watching a bar fight that wouldn't end! A dozen common terns were 40 feet above the Buttermilk Channel at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier Five, squabbling and making a racket for at least ten minutes over something that was invisible to me.
- Bob Sullivan

5/13 - Annandale-on-Hudson, HRM 98.5: I stopped by the mouth of the Saw Kill to see how the fish migrations were looking. There were still a substantial number of spawning alewives in the creek, but less than earlier this month. I saw only a few white suckers in their spawning colors. Other fishes were there as well, and I "sampled" the stream with a small artificial lure to confirm the presence of yellow perch, white perch, and smallmouth bass, all of which spawn in the Saw Kill. The catch-of-the-day was a rudd weighing about one pound. It accounted for two "firsts" - the first rudd on a lure for me and the first rudd ever reported from the Saw Kill.
- Bob Schmidt

[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.]

DEC educators Brianna and Jim hold a northern pike

5/13 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Unlike seeing birds in trees or butterflies on flowers, one of the mysteries of the river is to envision that there are fishes and other aquatic life, by the multitudes, out there, quite unseen. Sixty fifth-graders from Kinry Road Elementary helped us sample the river to satisfy our curiosity. For a couple of hours our seining efforts produced only a few fish and it appeared that the river would keep its secrets. On practically our final haul, the net bulged from just one fish, a trophy-sized northern pike 32 inches long. We carefully moved the spent female (she had already spawned this spring) into a large tub with chilled water so the students could see it. Later, we carefully released the fish back into the river. The water was 57 degrees Fahrenheit. [Photo of northern pike courtesy Ben Ganon.]
- Brianna Rosamilia, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Northern pike, a native species, is a member of the pike family (Esocidae) along with redfin pickerel, chain pickerel, and muskellunge. All are top predators with tooth-studded jaws that prey mostly on other fishes, amphibians, and even unlucky ducklings. Northern pike are on a short list of species that for me evoke a feeling of wilderness and remembrance of a less cluttered past. It is a short list that includes ravens, eagles, black bears, coyotes, and the occasional moose. Tom Lake.]

5/13 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63: I heard a whip-poor-will calling this evening to the east, probably at Stony Kill Farm. This is a species that is fading fast. Thirty years ago we used to hear them in "quad sound" - from all sides - in the eastern Adirondacks in late May and June. Now we are fortunate to hear one. The one I heard was probably a migrant on its way north.
- Stephen Seymour

5/14 - Ulster County, HRM 84: The old "slab" walls of Slabsides were apparently as beloved by mason bees as by people. I was standing on the porch and noticed a few bees. When I stopped to listen, I realized there were a lot of them. They were nesting in every hole and cranny, including the screw holes on a window sill. In front of Slabsides were at least 50 Jack-in-the-pulpit plants of all sizes. The skunk cabbage was lush and lovely, and bloodroot was in bloom along the path. I was reminded of John Burroughs telling us to just stop and look around, no matter where, and you will find something of interest in the natural world.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

[Slabsides is the log cabin built by American naturalist John Burroughs (1837-1921) and his son in 1895 on a nine-acre wooded and hilly tract one mile east of Riverby, his home in West Park. After his death in 1921, the cabin and surrounding land were conveyed to the John Burroughs Association. In 1968, Slabsides was designated a National Historic Landmark and today 191 acres have been protected. John Burroughs Association.]

5/14 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: The world was simply gorgeous in its greening. This is the season of the fresh tender green, the new yellow-green, green that makes me salivate. The spread of darling little pink-striped spring beauties in full bloom covered large patches of the greening lawn. It cast a sheen of white, suggesting snow or frost. Under and among them were the violets in their many varieties. The blue, purple, and light blue created ponds of color that were beginning to be dotted with yellow buttercups. Although it looked a bit wild, I don't want to mow this lovely stuff.
- Robin Fox

5/14 - Crugers, HRM 39: What a beautiful surprise we got this morning as we looked out onto our deck. Our first ruby-throated hummingbird of the season, iridescent in the morning light, was busy at the feeder we had just put up.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

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