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Hudson River Almanac May 22 - May 28, 2014

OVERVIEW

We began to settle into a late-spring sampling of entries of flora and fauna in equal measure. The occasionally severe spring weather dropped a tornado in Schenectady County while a milder natural phenomenon showered the beach in Beacon in a blizzard of white.

LATE REPORTS FROM LAST WEEK

5/20 - RamsHorn Swamp, HRM 112.5: On the fourth set of its 500-foot haul seine today, DEC's Hudson River Fisheries Unit caught, among other species, 29 rudd - the largest number they had ever seen in a single haul. The rudd were about eleven to fourteen inches long.
- Steve Stanne

5/20 - Alpine, NJ, HRM 18: Clear skies and a Baltimore oriole greeted the Tappan Zee and Pearl River High School students as they entered the Alpine Boat Basin park for a day of hiking and seining. Lots of effort went into seining but the river was slow to offer up any fish. We ended the day with one Atlantic tomcod 70 millimeters [mm] long, a white perch (127 mm), a bay anchovy (83 mm), and a grass shrimp. The salinity was a very low 1.7 parts per thousand [ppt].
- Margie Turrin, Colin Keegan, Patti Kilkelly, Pete Dene, Tom Mullane

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/22 - Duanesburg, Schenectady County, HRM 157: In the midst of a line of violent storms, a tornado cut a swath through this area late this afternoon, destroying buildings and much property but causing no human casualties.
- National Weather Service

5/22 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Heavy rain (1.75 inches) swept across the river today. High winds abetting a strong ebb tide had whitecaps on three-foot-high rollers. The blackflies went into hiding.
- Tom Lake

[I apologize for the confusion created with last issue's sidebar on blackflies and "no-see-ums." Our blackflies are in the family Simuliidae. The name "no-see-ums" is frequently used by anglers and hikers, referring to blackflies' small size and the fact that you almost never notice them biting. However, no-see-ums properly refers to a different family of even smaller biting flies (Ceratopogonidae). Tom Lake.]

5/22 - Croton Point, HRM 35: A Westchester County rarity, a cattle egret, presented itself today in a field at the base of the point, feeding among a flock of Canada geese.
- John Philips, John Grant, Larry Trachtenberg

5/22 - Croton Point, HRM 35-34: Between squally spells I managed a nice morning walk. Bush honeysuckle was in bloom; the scent pervaded the moist air. Out on Haverstraw Bay, lost in the mist, a loon called just once. Glad as I was to be where I was, that call had a predictable effect. Instantly, half of me was transported hundreds of miles north where loon parents were guarding nests on lakes and beaver ponds.
- Christopher Letts

5/23 - RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, HRM 112.5: Among the "regulars" today, there were also a yellow-billed cuckoo and a Canada warbler, still hanging around the observation tower (breeding there?). Best of all was hearing the calls of juvenile Virginia rails!
- Larry Federman

[Canada warbler breeding is not likely. While we're within the southern limits of their breeding range, the habitat and elevation are wrong for the species. This Canada warbler was likely a lingering late migrant (but not all that late). Rich Guthrie]

black-throated green warbler in tree. has a yellow head with a black and white body

5/23 - Palenville, HRM 110: It was "warbler-palooza" late this afternoon. I counted many blackpolls, Blackburnian, yellow-rumped, and magnolia, as well as black-and-white and black-throated-green warblers. A pair of black-billed cuckoos was seen, as were resident Baltimore orioles (conveniently building a nest in our chestnut oak); blue-gray gnatcatchers; and two pairs of ruby-throated hummingbirds. [Photo of black-throated green warbler by Jake Dingle, Pennsylvania Game Commission.]
- Larry Federman

5/23 - Ulster County, HRM 97: How wonderful to return to the Hudson Valley with its amazing diversity of flora and fauna after spending a winter in Florida. We were greeted by the scene of striped bass anglers in great numbers on both sides of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. Lilacs were in full bloom and our first ruby-throated hummingbird reminded me to put the feeders out. Overhead were long formations of brant heading north. A large tanker threw up such a huge wake at low tide that it thrust many white perch and river herring up on the shoreline with no way for them to get back in the water. My neighbor and I threw back about 30.
- Peg Duke

5/23 - Pleasant Valley, HRM 76: For the first time in ten years I saw a red fox as it walked across my back yard, sat and scratched, and then just looked at me. I grabbed my binoculars to get a closer look. It was a large fox, very high on leg, and quite magnificent with a long bushy tail.
- Kathy Kraft

5/23 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: There were at least 24 bobolinks on Croton Point's landfill this morning, including three singing males. Two different grasshopper sparrows were singing, with a third one perched in a different area.
- Anne Swaim

5/23 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: The male bobolinks were back aloft, the display flight and lovely liquid song touching up my morning as no jumbo mug of coffee could possible do. On the field at the entrance to the point, the cattle egret was doing a herky-jerky breakfast patrol.
- Christopher Letts

5/24 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Today we had an international class of senior high school students helping us to sample the river. Students from the Manhattan Center for Science and Math joined with those from Maurick College in Vught, The Netherlands. It was wonderful for the educators to see the river through the fresh eyes of those who were experiencing the estuary for the first time. The resident species - sunfish, darters, killifish, white perch - were all there, and one unexpected fish, a fathead minnow.
- Tom Lake

[This very unassuming pinkie-sized minnow is native to the mid-continental United States. Its presence in the watershed may be a combination of both canal immigration and bait-bucket release. We had caught fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) at Norrie Point only once before, exactly two years ago on May 24, 2012. Tom Lake.]

5/24 - Annsville Creek, HRM 43.5: Imagine our wonder and delight today as we watched an adult bald eagle pluck a fish from Annsville Creek and then fly over our car with his catch.
- Dianne Picciano, Phil Picciano

5/24 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I woke up at 3:00 a.m. hoping that the skies had cleared so I could see some of the expected meteor shower (the Camelopardalids). However, the sky was thickly clouded with no chance of meteor sightings. But as I squinted into the gloom, I began to see flickers of light in the air, at tree-top level, on the window screen - no meteors, but fireflies.
- Robin Fox

5/25 - Ossining, HRM 33: At dusk a loud cackling sound overhead caused me to look up to see hundreds of brant flying north over the river. They were not in a typical "V" formation; their lines looked like swirls painted on the sky, quickly moving out of sight.
- Dorothy Ferguson

5/25 - East River, New York City: We have been seeing American eels of all sizes this week, hooked by anglers and hiding out in our oyster cages. Our oyster cages (gardens) are hanging off a semi-protected bulkhead in the East River about six inches below the projected low tide water mark. These are a part of the New York Harbor School's Billion Oyster Project. A network of students come by periodically and check the growth of the protected spat-on-shell young oysters to determine what locations in the harbor offer good habitat. The cages also offer protection as the young shellfish grow to a size that will survive on an open reef.
- Daniel Tainow

[We have had one of our cages for two years, and many of the oysters have grown from 4-5 mm to 40-50 mm. We are able to use the oyster gardens as a tool to teach students about the natural history of New York Harbor, oysters' ability to filter the water, the potential of oyster reefs to slow down storm surges, and as a living laboratory to show what happens when you restore a tiny area of shallow estuary habitat. Along with the oysters, we have found mud crabs; green crabs; spider crabs; sea squirts; blue mussels; sponges; skilletfish; shrimp; and 3-5 inch-long American eels using the cage. Daniel Tainow, Education Director, Lower East Side Ecology Center]

female mallard in a tree cavity

5/26 - Saratoga Springs, HRM 186: For two weeks now, I had been watching a hen mallard sitting inside a large cavity of an old willow, canted to one side, at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs. My son, Matt James, climbed to peer into the nest hole, about nine feet up, and took a photo of eggs. Now the hen mallard was on the ground next to the tree and a stream with her brood. While her distinct mallard field marks were obvious, the drake appeared to be a hybrid mallard. A mallard, not a wood duck, nest in a tree cavity was very unexpected. [Photo of female mallard in tree cavity courtesy of Matt James.]
- Johanna Wasalinko

[According to the Birds of North American Online, mallards occasionally nest in dead tree tops; hollow bases of trees; and abandoned raptor or crow nests. It's not a big jump from such sites to nesting in a large natural cavity in a tree. Steve Stanne.]

5/26 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: Walking past my window on a warm Memorial Day evening, I stopped to look at something that had caught my eye - the first "lightning bugs" or fireflies of the season!
- Donna Lenhart

5/27 - Minerva, HRM 284: This is the first time in about fifteen years that we have not had an American bittern with their "bad plumbing" calls in the marsh. I did hear an alder flycatcher for the first time (the standard "fee-be-o" call) - in the alders, of course. It was prime time for painted trillium, starflower, and goldthread, with Clintonia just starting to flower. Shadbush flowering was pretty much done; it began around two weeks ago. All things in the woods were intensely green and beautiful.
- Mike Corey

5/27 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: I glanced out into the backyard this afternoon and spotted a bird flying back-and-forth in my garden - a flycatcher, possibly a kingbird. But the coloration wasn't quite right. After some further investigation, it appeared that it might be a visiting western kingbird, with a yellow-tinged abdomen and brown wings.
- Larry Roth

[Western kingbirds are considered very rare in our area, and then only in fall migration. Rich Guthrie offered that Larry saw a great crested flycatcher - yellow belly with brownish wings - that is a fairly common species here at this time of year. Barbara Butler agreed, adding that while it is possible - Dutchess County has eight records, all in the fall - the description sounds very much like a great-crested flycatcher, a summer resident in our area. Tom Lake.]

5/27 - Tivoli Bays, HRM 100: I spotted a horned grebe here today. It was also seen yesterday by Susan Fox Rogers while she was kayaking. Barbara Butler (Waterman Bird Club) is checking but she thinks this might be the latest spring migration date on record for this species in Dutchess County.
- Debi Kral

5/27 - Milan, HRM 90: I remove my hummingbird feeder each evening to prevent bears from taking it from my deck as in past years. I went out later than usual tonight and heard the loud repetitive song of a whip-poor-will. I could not tell if it was one or two birds. The clear song brought back memories of days past in rural New England where I often heard it. It would be nice to have a breeding pair nearby. Barbara Butler told me that she did count whip-poor-wills during this year's Waterman Bird Club Dutchess County May census.
- Frank Margiotta

[It is difficult to know how many breeding pairs of whip-poor-wills remain in Dutchess County, perhaps a dozen or a few more. They are generally heard during the May census and nearly all reports come from the eastern half of the county. The Birds of Dutchess County New York by Stan DeOrsey and Barbara Butler (2006)]

5/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie: I stopped by NY62 today for the first time is quite a while and from the distant vantage found the eagle's nest so well concealed by new leaves that all I saw was a big wing flapping! The eaglets are growing up.
- Debi Kral

5/27 - Beacon, HRM 61: There was a "blizzard" on the beach at Long Dock today in a strong and sultry southwest breeze. The wind was dispersing clouds of cottonwood seeds as well as the fragrance of honeysuckle. The midday high tide covered the entire beach, limiting our catch to banded killifish. The river was 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

5/27 - Bedford, HRM 35: Things were starting to get noisy at the great blue heron rookery. There was a constant chatter from the nestlings looking to get fed and they sure were growing. They now appear to be about the size of a small chicken, but with short legs and a short bill. In several nests I saw two young and in others three. The nests were deep enough so there could be more inside. Some nests appeared to be unoccupied and others had an adult perched on the side of the nest as if standing guard over an incubating mate.
- Jim Steck

white and purple flower, dame's rocket, up close

5/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: The roadside was lined with multi-colored wildflowers, mostly Dame's rocket. I had to drive with the windows down - their fragrance was intoxicating. [Photo of Dame's rocket by Steve Stanne.]
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[One of the signs of the waning spring season is the appearance of Dame's rocket along the river and its tributaries. This non-native wildflower comes in white, pink, violet, and purple. Carried by spring breezes, its wonderfully sweet fragrance fills the air from mid-May through early June. Tom Lake.]

5/28 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: There was a single ring-necked pheasant, first seen three weeks ago, still on the prowl at Croton Point. It is amazing how it has survived while carrying its own neon invitation to dine.
- Larry Trachtenberg

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