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Hudson River Almanac May 29 - June 4, 2014

OVERVIEW

Two rare wildlife occurrences in one week - a brown pelican and a Karner blue butterfly - vied for our highlight selection, but the endangered butterfly seems a good choice. Late spring black bear reports - usually young males seeking new territory - added some drama to the week as well.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/3 - North Creek, HRM 257: In my meadow the other day I saw a Karner blue butterfly - a subspecies of the Melissa Blue and an endangered species. Last year we had none in the meadow, but the year before we had dozens. So I am hopeful there will be more. Sadly, last summer we had absolutely no monarch butterflies when usually we have hundreds. On the other hand, I have seen a few bats around in the evening from time to time; evidently some have survived the white-nose syndrome.
- Barbara Dodsworth

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

5/29 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I saw my first swallowtail butterfly of the season today, an eastern tiger swallowtail. Not surprisingly, its arrival coincided with the flowering of the non-native honeysuckle, apple, cherry, scarlet elder, and the ornamental trees in town. Lilacs were also beautiful and just a day or two away from being in full bloom. A good lilac year is unusual in the High Peaks Region of Newcomb as a late frost usually takes out the budding flowers. The complete suite of bird species seemed to be back on their summer ranges, with the veery and indigo bunting pulling into town earlier this week.
- Charlotte Demers

5/29 - Saratoga Lake, HRM 182: I was fishing near the bridge on the north end of Saratoga Lake in late afternoon when I had to do a double take. Swimming along, real slow, no more than 50 feet away, was a brown pelican. When I got back to the dock there were three guys fishing; when I explained what I had seen they replied "He swam by here about an hour ago."
- Myron Chamberlin

[Brown pelicans are very uncommon on inland waters. There was one on Lake Ontario several winters ago. Any other ones I've seen or heard of were on Long Island in late summer. Rich Guthrie.]

horned grebe swimming underwater

5/29 - Washington Hollow, Dutchess County, HRM 82: A horned grebe was still hanging around on the East Branch of Wappinger Creek near Cary Arboretum. Such a tiny bird, but such a presence! I was able to see it dive for prey from atop the bridge, and watched as it swam along under the surface hunting. [Photo of horned grebe courtesy Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Deb Kral

5/29 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 60. It was becoming difficult to get a clear look at the eagle nest (NY62) with all the new growth. It took us well over a half-hour and several different spots before we found a good vantage with a spotting scope well away from the nest tree. The nestlings were now the size of a toaster oven, had developed secondary feathers, and were looking very fit. Mom arrived during our stay with a foot-long eel.
- Tom McDowell, Tom Lake

[This was the time of the spring when Pete Nye would go up into Hudson River watershed eagle nests, especially when the bald eagle was on the Endangered Species List (pre-2007). He would carefully pass the nestlings down in a sack where we would give them a "physical" including a blood test and a best guess as to their sex, band them, and set them back in their nest. This process usually took less than ten minutes and the eaglets never seemed worse for the ordeal. Tom Lake.]

5/29 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 68: There was a pair of barred owls in the neighborhood and they were making an unusual low "screech" as they called to each other. As I came upon one of them, perched not more than 25 feet away, it just studied me, trying to figure out if I was a threat. Not coincidentally, the squirrels that had been annoying my bird feeders have disappeared.
- Frank Poplees

5/29 - Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released four carp today at Long Dock. One of them was the largest I had ever caught here at 20 lb., 4 oz. (34 inches long and a 22-inch girth). Three others ranged from 6-10 lb. each.
- Bill Greene

5/29 - Croton River, HRM 34: We came to check on the big nest on the cell tower and were rewarded with the sight of two ospreys perched there. One was sitting at the very top of the tower and the other stood on the edge of the nest, ducking its head down into it every so often. At one point, it flew off, made a large circle around the area, and then went back to the nest.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

5/30 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Walking along the Indian Kill today reminded me of a fishing program here a week ago when we had some college students from the Netherlands (see 5/24). Among our catch that day were banded killifish. A student from Manhattan Center for Science and Math inquired as to the origin of the fish's name. I offered what we thought was the best answer, referencing both the fish, the kill (Indian Kill), and the Dutch translation of the word "kill" as a stream or creek. The Dutch students, however, one and all, told us that there was no such word as "kill" in their language. [Photo of banded killifish courtesy of Tom Lake.]
- Tom Lake

banded killifish

[The word "kill," in reference to a stream or small river, is not used in modern Dutch. It is archaic Dutch. Many of our modern Dutch crew on the Replica Ship Half Moon are unfamiliar with the word when they arrive here. Captain William T. (Chip) Reynolds.]

5/30 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was barely first light but already delightfully warm - a cool, spring warmth. And it was noisy! I was emulating one of ecologist Aldo Leopold's favorite practices: listening to the woods awaken. While it is true that a few birds seem to chirp all night, the rising crescendo of birdsong began in the last moments of darkness, mostly robins, but by now they had been joined by titmice, chickadees, cardinals, a Carolina wren, a common yellowthroat, a gray catbird (or a mockingbird playing the part), an oriole, and some unidentified warblers. What had begun as melodious music had evolved into many melodies, all stepping on each other. It reminded me of an orchestra tuning up before a performance.
- Tom Lake

[See the "Great Possessions" chapter in Aldo Leopold's classic A Sand County Almanac (1949) for a full rendition, beautifully done. Tom Lake.]

5/30 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 12.5: Poison ivy was remarkably abundant at Inwood Hill Park, and now its minute flowers were out. A few petals had fallen from the tulip trees and the blossoms on the pasture rose bushes scattered through the woods were lovely.
- Thomas Shoesmith

5/31 - Newcomb, HRM 302: The wet month of May ended dry and sunny. We saw 6.17 inches of rain in May, which was close to twice our average. The first waterfowl young-of-the-year were spotted today, a female mallard with six or seven very young chicks floating down a short stretch of rapids at the outlet of Rich Lake.
- Charlotte Demers

5/31 - New Baltimore, HRM 132: I found the moth version of Ol' Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra, for you youngsters) at the113-acre Hannacroix Creek Preserve. This polyphemus moth (Anthera polyphemus) had a wing-span of 4.75-inches, and the purplish-blue eye spots on its hind wings were quite large and irresistibly iridescent. But, alas, the specimen was no longer alive, and it is now part of my collection of things found. Many great blue herons were mucking about the tidal pond at the Interpretive Trail, enjoying easy pickings at low tide.
- Fran Martino

5/31 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 0.5: The falcon nest webcam showed that the 55 Water Street peregrine scrape had four young falcons.
- Matthew Willis

[55 Water Street is a 687-foot-high building located on the East River in the Financial District of the lower east side of Manhattan. A scrape is the small area of ledge cleared off by a peregrine in order to lay its eggs; these birds do not build a nest. Tom Lake.]

5/31 - Brooklyn, New York City: We were sailing as the science representatives on the Mystic Whaler for two World Science Festival Science Sails from Brooklyn's Pier 5. We had lively discussions about how the Hudson River estuary compares to the Saint Lawrence River Estuary in Canada and other estuaries around the world. Participants were surprised to discover salinity levels of 20.0 parts-per-thousand [ppt] in the East River compared to only 15.0 ppt in New York Harbor. Once they reviewed the chart, however, they discovered that the East River connects two bodies of saltwater, the harbor plus Long Island Sound. Later we came upon a dead Atlantic sturgeon washing in toward shore. It was a little less than three feet long, and its lower extremities appeared to have suffered damage from a boat propeller.
- Margie Turrin, Brent Turrin, Frank Nitsche

6/1 - Vermont: I just received word that a brown pelican has been reported on Lake Dunmore, Vermont, about 135 miles northeast of Saratoga Lake. This may be the same brown pelican spotted on Saratoga Lake on May 29.
- Richard Guthrie

black bear poking his nose at a hanging bird feeder

6/1 - Clinton Corners, Dutchess County, HRM 82: We are having a tremendous wildlife-filled spring. In addition to an amazing selection of birds, this morning we were fortunate to have a black bear in the yard. I was able to make enough of a racket to stop him from tearing down the bird feeders. We've lost feeders twice before and I really didn't want to have to replace them again. [Photo of black bear courtesy of Kate and Bob Tucker.]
- Kate Tucker, Bob Tucker

6/1 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: While it was nothing approaching the periodical cicada emergence of last spring, there was evidence that a mini-emergence had occurred. There were dozens of small holes - like golf ball divots - across the lawn, where the final nymph stage had emerged. Overhead, each of my Norway maples and a sweet gum had several branches filled with dead, brown leaves. A skunk arrived at dusk and began excavating the small holes looking for leftovers. My golden retriever offered to help but was met with an emphatic "No, thank you!"
- Tom Lake

[Periodical cicadas have a life cycle of seventeen years - they are one of the longest lived insects. They live underground as nymphs feeding on sap in tree rootlets before emerging simultaneously in large numbers at dusk. The nymphs crawl up the nearest tree trunk and moult overnight to their adult form. Female cicadas are drawn to the male's buzzing call, mate, and then disperse. The females cut slits in tree branches into which they deposit their eggs. Trees will have a brownish look to them as some of their branches and leaves die. Adult cicadas live for three to four weeks and are eagerly consumed by birds and other animals. (From Borror and White. A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico.]

6/1 - Newburgh, HRM 61: Several great blue herons continued to be well-fed, primarily on large goldfish, in the pond at Downing Park. The goldfish population is large enough to last.
- Terry Hardy

[Goldfish (Carassius auratus) are native to east Asia. While they were widely introduced into North America in the early nineteenth century, their presence in the watershed is most often attributed to aquaria release. Domesticated since 900 AD in China, and bred for color, goldfish range from orange to burnished-gold to white, often mottled with black. In the wild, goldfish can grow to fourteen inches and weigh a couple of pounds, but most are far smaller. Riverman Everett Nack used to capture wild goldfish and raise them for backyard fish ponds. Tom Lake.]

6/1 - Croton River, HRM 34: It was a glorious day - crystal blue sky, a lovely breeze - and the best place to be was near the Hudson River. I met a gentleman who had just caught two carp, 17 lb. and 19 lb. It reminded me of many days gone by at Green's Cove, six miles upriver in Verplanck, when we would sometimes see large carp (three feet long) that had gotten stranded in the mud with the changing tide.
- Dianne Piccciano

6/2 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Another first of the year observation: a female white-tailed deer and her fawn were spotted today. Foam flower, (Tiarella cordifolia), goldthread (Coptis trifolia), golden alexander (Zizia aurea) and dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) were some of the many plants in bloom now.
- Charlotte Demers

6/2 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: I walked through two fields awash with clover today. In my youth, their soft, spiky flowers were buzzing with hundred of honeybees. Today, there were none. Not a single honeybee did I see in these two fields. Pesticides and chemicals have been killing bees at what should be alarming rates, yet people continue to use them. When will it stop?
- Donna Lenhart

6/2 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Second-graders from Ben Franklin Elementary in Shrub Oak helped us seine today and were rewarded with a catch of white perch, spottail shiners, tessellated darters, and small striped bass. What we caught was not as important as the expression on their faces as we unfolded the wet net on the damp sand. Here was something from nothing. Looking out on the river from the beach, these seven-year-olds could not conceive of life in the gray river. And yet, here were dozens of living, wiggling fish, appearing like magic. The river was 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Carl Muller, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

[Why do we seine? For knowledge. For the magic of discovery. Unlike birds, butterflies, or wildflowers, fish are a cryptic, or hidden, part of our community of life. Every time we open the net after a haul, it is like opening a present - the anticipation can be intoxicating. Tom Lake.]

6/3 - Selkirk, HRM 135: As the sun rose this morning at Henry Hudson Park in Selkirk, I was looking out over the calm waters of the Hudson and saw something swimming toward the park from the middle of the river. I put my binoculars up to see whether it was a muskrat or a beaver, and was surprised to see that it might be a fisher. I never saw the entire body or the tail, but I decided that it might be a fisher based primarily on the way it was swimming and the look of its face. I have seen river otters before and they were much more at home in the water than this animal was. He made slow progress, never arched its back (see river otter) and occasionally submerged completely - did so by just sinking, not by arching its back and diving. As it approached the shore, it saw me and altered its course to come ashore in a safer location.
- John Kent

[The fisher is our largest weasel, reaching over 40 inches in length. They are seen periodically in the Catskills and Adirondacks but are uncommon in the Mid-Hudson Valley. While the name of this furbearer suggests an aquatic habitat and diet, they actually much prefer dense forests and porcupines. Ellen Rathbone.]

6/3 - Crugers, HRM 39: The spatterdock had almost completely taken over Ogilvie's Pond, leaving only one area of open water. The leaves were high and surrounded the little yellow flowers. Right in the middle of this tangled mass we spotted a great blue heron, standing stock-still with its legs submerged in the water. It scarcely moved for quite a while and when we returned later in the day, the heron was up on a flat-topped tree, standing with its back to us.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

6/4 - Hyde Park, HRM 82: I identified my first red-shouldered hawk on Starlight Hill today. He pulled something (a garter snake?) out of our neighbor's lawn next to a tiny pond, and consumed it on a bare branch close by.
- Dave Lindemann

two juvenile eagles practicing flying near their nest

6/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Day 66. The eaglets put on a show in midday, "branching" up and away from the nest, trying out their wings. This is an annual event for eagle nestlings everywhere after about two months. They have grown to nearly full size and discovered how flapping their wings allows them to lift off and hover over a branch. They were still very careful as they explored the branches in the vicinity of the nest. In the next week or so they will begin to show signs of readiness to take that first step into space. [Photo of nestling bald eagles courtesy of Bob Rightmeyer.]
- Bob Rightmyer, Tom Lake

6/4 - Wappinger Falls, HRM 68: I was sitting on my porch when I finally heard the tell-tale buzzing of a ruby-throated hummingbird. This reminded me that it was past time to put out my feeders.
- Jen Kovach

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