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Hudson River Almanac May 15 - May 21, 2014

OVERVIEW

The spring spawning run of river herring (and by association, American shad) continued. Bald eagle nests (minimally two dozen) along the watershed were busy with eaglets that were feathering out and growing larger day-by day, appetites included. The impressive spring northern migration of brant, tens of thousands of birds, began this week.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

5/17 - Orange County: Over the last two days, the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club held its annual "Break 100," a 24-hour day of birding, with a goal of merely enjoying a day with friends and to surpass 100 species of birds identified. There were nineteen participants and the count area included all of Orange County. The total number of species was 155, including 29 warblers, with team-tallies ranging from 89 to 139 birds. One new species for the event was Steve Schuyler's ruddy turnstone on the mud flats at Cornwall Bay (HRM 58). This was only the third time this species has been seen in Orange County; the other two sightings were fall migrants found in the Black Dirt area near Pine Island.
- Curt McDermott

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

hen mallard duck up a dam with her ducklings behind her below the dam

5/15 - Rensselaer County, HRM 129: I went searching for river herring and came upon scap-netters at the mouth of Mill Creek. I also was able to see a prime example of dams-as-barriers to migration: A hen mallard tried three times to get her ducklings to follow her up a dam and into the water beyond, but the chicks were not strong enough to follow. [Photo of ducklings courtesy Andrew Meyer.]
- Andrew Meyer

[Scap-nets are a low-tech traditional method of catching fish, primarily river herring. Until the last half of the twentieth century, there was a springtime scap-netting cottage industry of pickling herring and suckers. The basic equipment is a stout, forked branch with a square, small-mesh seine net fastened to the forked ends (DEC regulations, for recreational use and only on the mainstem river, limit the size of the net to no more than sixteen square feet in area). The net is lowered into the water and then sharply raised as fish swim over the top. A "stoolie" is often used to increase the catch. A stoolie is a colloquial name given to a fish that is tethered to a line and let swim free for the purpose of attracting others near enough to be netted. In defense of the stoolie, they hardly have a choice in the matter. Tom Lake.]

5/15 - Milan HRM 90: We had a visit from a black bear last night. I did not see it, but the destruction to the bird feeders and the disappearance of the suet feeders was pretty good evidence. It seems every May they make visit before I can react.
- Marty Otter

5/15 - Moodna Creek, HRM 58: The muggy morning featured swarms of swallows (tree swallows/barn swallows) and clouds of blackflies. In a three-hour search along Moodna Creek, more than a mile upstream from the Hudson, I saw only a single river herring. I saw that herring in silhouette as it tried to make its way over the lip of a low dam (in profile it was an alewife), failed, and fell back.
- Tom Lake

[Blackflies (Simuliidae), known colloquially as "no-see-ums," are a family of small biting flies (adults are less than two millimeters [mm] long). Unlike mosquitoes, blackfly bites tend to be unnoticed when they occur. However, the next day extremely itchy lumps, bumps, and welts arise that can last for a week and cause much discomfort. Blackflies are the absolute bane of the Adirondack High Peaks hiker from mid-May until the summer heat of July. Tom Lake.]

northern flicker with a white egg in its mouth coming out of a hole in the tree

5/15 - Yonkers, HRM 18: I stopped today at a very small and out-of-the way place and came upon a northern flicker's nest in a tree cavity. As I watched, I photographed an adult coming out of the nest with an egg in its mouth. After moving the egg, the flicker went back in and began renovating. [Photo of northern flicker courtesy Jeff Seneca.]
- Jeff Seneca

[The consensus of opinion by several other birders, after viewing Jeff's three excellent digital images, is that the flicker was moving its nest. While it was a consensus, it was not unanimous, since this seemed to be an unusual occurrence. Tom Lake.]

5/16 - Poestenkill, HRM 151.5: I saw river herring in the Poestenkill today, tens of them, maybe more than a hundred at the first partial barrier in the heart of Troy. Alewives were spawning and flopping all over the bedrock. Later I spotted some of them in the stream above the barrier and two more up under the next bridge, suggesting that this is only a partial barrier to upstream herring migration.
- Andrew Meyer

5/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 46. The nestlings in eagle nest NY62 were now the size of chickens. Momma brought a brown bullhead to the nest in midday amidst a drenching downpour (2.03 inches).
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/17 - Red Hook, HRM 96.5: We were thrilled to see a pair of Baltimore orioles in Abrams Park in the hollow near the end of the walkway.
- Bob Haan, Angie Haan

5/17 - Bedford, HRM 35: There was more activity at the great blue heron rookery today (see May 10). Twice an adult flew to a nest to join another adult. At other nests, adults were visible sitting on eggs or with nestlings. The real news was that some eggs have hatched and there may be many more that cannot be seen down in the nests. Some nests are hard to view because they are high up in dead trees hundreds of feet from shore. As the nestlings grow, they will become more visible.
- Jim Steck

5/18 - Gardiner, HRM 73: I spotted a single sandhill crane landing in the fields along County Route 7 this morning. It was absolutely amazing!
- Rebecca Houser

5/18 - Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Our first goslings of the season were on Lake Meahagh - three little yellow fluff balls, closely guarded by Momma in the lead and Papa hissing and glaring from the rear.
- Christopher Letts

5/19 - Constitution Island, HRM 52: There was a late-morning low tide in the river off the south end of Constitution Island and an osprey was hunting. Wheeling above, head canted to one side, it clearly had an idea where the fish might be. We also counted six spotted sandpipers, in their flitting manner, foraging along the shore.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/19 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: Bobolink magic! It was a lovely morning to listen to one of my favorite bird songs. I saw perhaps two dozen birds and, for the most part, they looked like they were "setting up shop." Singly and in pairs, there was much singing and aerial display.
- Christopher Letts

5/20 - Minerva, HRM 284: I was walking my dogs along an access road around my pond accompanied by the intense sound of spring peepers - almost a "jingle bells" sound. I heard two barred owls calling back and forth. One was distant, maybe a quarter of a mile; the other one was in the woods a few hundred yards away. Being one who used to attempt to call owls, I gave it a try. Sadly, I don't think it worked, but I didn't scare anyone away and the two owls continued to call back and forth. The dogs as usual, were oblivious.
- Mike Corey

5/20 - Millbrook, HRM 82: We have a fox family that lives in the woods beyond my donkeys' paddock and have young every spring. They run freely on my property and today I saw five kits drinking out of the donkeys' trough.
- Eve Propp

5/20 - Ulster County, HRM 80: While kayaking along the west bank of the Hudson, a pair of bald eagles, one adult and one immature, flew over me and disappeared into the foliage. A few minutes later the adult flew out and landed in a dead tree. Three minutes later the immature joined the adult. There they sat as I drifted past them. I was surprised to see the adult and the immature flying and then perching together. Is that common?
- Mike Heller

[It is difficult to know the circumstances. The adult might have been a non-breeder or the immature might have been last year's fledge. Adult males have been known to "recruit" immature females with the loss of a mated female. Of course it simply could have been a tolerant adult not fazed by the closeness of an immature. Tom Lake.]

5/20 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Eighth-grade science students from Storm King School helped us sample the river at Kowawese, in the shadow of Storm King Mountain. While our 85-foot-long seine caught many pumpkinseed sunfish, white perch, spottail shiners, tessellated darters, and shoestring eels, the most interesting were the striped bass. All of those caught were yearlings, (second-year fish), but their total length ranged from 55 to 135 mm. While all were born in 2013, the wide range in length spoke of their protracted spawning season, late April to early July. The in-shore shallow were a toasty 66 degrees Farenheit (F).
- Emily Boronkay, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[A protracted or extended spawning season seems to be an adaptation, a result of natural selection, for survival. In an unpredictable environment like an estuary, it makes sense "to not lay all your eggs in one basket," that is to say, over a short period of time. Tom Lake.]

5/20 - Manhattan, HRM 12.5: Last week was New York City Wildflower Week, and the date was well chosen. However, the changes from a week ago were striking at Inwood Hill Park. Lily-of the valley was blooming; lesser celandine that lines the path up through the Clove had no more blossoms but up on the ridge the "true" celandine had many. The white starlike flowers of false garlic seemed to be everywhere. Herb Robert was now flowering and garlic mustard and Japanese honeysuckle, both considered invasive, were defying efforts to eradicate them. Second-year stalks of garlic mustard were flowering, the first-year basal leaves were abundant, and honeysuckle buds were opening. Tiny flowers of field peppergrass were also open and a few small clumps of Spanish bluebells were bright spots in the woods. Of particular delight was the exquisite little flowers of Kenilworth ivy which, true to its name, was growing in a wall. The lilac bush at the Overlook was also in bloom.
- Thomas Shoesmith

5/21 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: A flock of brant went by Coeymans Landing this evening.
- Richard Guthrie

5/21 - RamsHorn, HRM 112.5: During our birding walk at RamsHorn Sanctuary today, two hundred brant flew over. Later in the day, another larger flock went over Brandow Point, four miles upriver.
- Larry Federman

[Naturalist Dery Bennett used to mark the seasons by noting how brant, a small species of goose, left Sandy Hook, NJ, around Memorial Day after spending the winter, and headed north. In his words, "they would shove off for the Canadian Arctic where they will breed, fledge young, and then return around Columbus Day." Tom Lake.]

5/21 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Our seining in the cove with seventh-graders from Rhinebeck Middle School produced nothing surprising (pumpkinseed and bluegill sunfish, smallmouth bass, spottail shiners, and tessellated darters) until our final haul through the shallows at low tide. This time when the net's bag spilled, there were glass eels. Somehow we had managed to capture these small, thin, translucent eels that look more like linguini than fish. The river was 61 degrees F.
-Caitlin Zinsley, Tom Lake

5/21 - Ulster County, HRM 76: A northern harrier was on the Kerhonkson Rail Trail busy with a freshly killed squirrel. As I approached it flew away, prudently taking the squirrel with it. It did not gain much altitude due to the weight of the cargo but managed to fly off into the woods at a height of about three feet off the ground.
- Sarah Underhill

bald eagle flying with a catfish in its talons

5/21 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 52. The NY62 eaglets were rooster-size now and quite active. The adults were spending much less time in the nest, but usually perched close by. It is not uncommon for both adults to leave for short periods to hunt for themselves and their young. As the nestlings grow, their demands to be fed will become quite overbearing for the adults. [Photo of bald eagle with catfish courtesy Tom McDowell.]
- Tom Lake

5/21 - Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: The first bush beans of the season broke through the soil and into the sunlight this morning. Up in the sky there arose such a clatter, I looked up from the beans to see what was the matter. A clacking, wavering flock of brant passed over headed north. A few minutes later, another flock went over, altogether perhaps 5,000 birds.
- Christopher Lets

5/21 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: My yard was a blue lake of ajuga (ground pine, a mint), spotted with golden buttercups and alive with bumble bees. I don't remember ever seeing so many bumble bees. I always thought that bumble bees wouldn't sting. I was wrong. Still, when I'm out in the garden I think of the poem by William Butler Yeats, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," and of his idyllic vision of "the bee-loud glade."
- Robin Fox

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