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Hudson River Almanac June 5 - June 11, 2014

OVERVIEW

Turtles were on the move this week, seeking the perfect site to dig their holes and lay their eggs. Some of the journeys undertaken by turtles to find the perfect nest location are legendary. The eagle nestlings in our Hudson Valley nests were preparing for their maiden voyage, due to occur within the next two weeks.

an adult peregrine falcon and a fledgling peregrine falcon flying close to each other

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/8 - Storm King Mountain, HRM 55: The morning was bright and clear, perfect flying weather. For the third time in eleven years, and the first since 2010, three peregrine falcon fledglings were spotted flying with both adults over Route 218 on Storm King Mountain. While anticipated from the incessant "begging" at the nest site for the last couple of weeks, it was exciting to be able to confirm by sighting all five birds. The adult female is a banded bird: black-over-green, possibly the same banded female from 2009. [Photo of adult and fledgling peregrine falcons courtesy of Mike Pogue.]
- Michael Pogue

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/5 - Indian Kill, HRM 85: My comment is about the archaic Dutch word "kill," as discussed in the Almanac (see May 30, Norrie Point, referencing the origin of the name killifish). The word comes from the Middle Dutch "kille," meaning "riverbed" or "water channel." In Swedish, there's a word "kil" (pronounced "sheel") that means "wedge," but is often used to refer to a wedge-shaped embayment, where a river may drain to the sea. There may be an etymological relationship between that and the old Dutch.
- Karin Limburg

6/5 - Hathaway's Glen, HRM 63: As the falling tide exposed the rocky beach, spotted sandpipers went prospecting. The beach is the terminus of a small, cold-water brook that spills down the fall line into a short run to the river. The inland reach of the tide is only a couple of hundred feet. In a small pool in the shade of cottonwoods and box elders, the water was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The river shallows just outside the brook were 67 degrees. A strong northeast wind had rollers coming onto the beach, roiling the shallows. We suspected that this had stirred up food, microscopic to macroscopic - forage for the white perch and banded killifish. We only made a single haul with our net - that was all we needed. More than a hundred fish spilled out of our seine. Fully half were hungry white perch and the rest were banded killifish, many brightly iridescent males, the largest of which was nearly 100 millimeters [mm] long.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[There may not be a prettier fish in the river than a courting male banded killifish with iridescent blue, lavender and silver highlights in their bands. A favorite name for the male is "blue-banded mudminnow," a colloquialism coined by riverman Everett Nack. As the females are a drab brownish-green, the species offers a good example of sexual dimorphism. Tom Lake.]

6/6 - New Paltz, HRM 78: Sitting on my screen porch this afternoon, I heard the scratching of what sounded like a fairly large animal. I looked out and saw a seven-inch long painted turtle making her way up to the top of the sandy hill where we have found nests in past years. I hope her eggs make it through the inevitable skunk raids.
- Shirley Warren

a bald eagle fledgling in its nest surrounded by greenery

6/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Both eagle chicks appeared healthy and well fed. The pair spent most of the day perched on either side of the nest among the beautiful orange and yellow tulip-tree flowers. As they perched in the sun, they panted like puppy dogs. The heat and lack of wind perhaps put a damper on their "branching activities." Periods of dead air allowed insects to gather, forming a haze around the nest. The eaglets occupied a good portion of their time by snapping at these flying insects. [Photo of bald eagle fledgling courtesy of Tom McDowell.]
- Tom McDowell

[As the nestlings grow and discover their wings, they find that with vigorous flapping they can gain some lift. From that first lift-off comes the realization that they can move from branch to branch, up and down. Over time (a couple of weeks) this gives them the instinctive confidence that will help them when they take their first real flight. Tom Lake.]

6/6 - Bedford, HRM 35: At the great blue heron rookery, the young were getting noticeably larger. Their legs and bills had grown and they were beginning to look more like the adults. One parent was perched on a branch next to a nest with four nestlings as the other adult arrived to feed the young. It was a treat to watch the feeding activity. One of the nestlings flapped its wings, and the hollow shaft or quill that the barbs emerge from was clearly visible. It can be expected that as the feathers reach full size they will be using their wings more and building up their stamina to prepare for the day when they will leave the nest. The young stay in the nest for about two months.
- Jim Steck

6/6 - Hastings-on-Hudson, HRM 21.5: The last time I went seining [in October] I caught only a few macro-invertebrates and a crab. I hoped to seine again, and this wish came true today when Ms. Shandroff's AP Environmental Science class returned to the river. Matthew Hays and I volunteered to put on waders and seine. The weather was hot and sunny and the tide was low. Due to the lower tide, instead of walking over rocks, Matt and I had to pull our net through quicksand-like mud, our feet sinking into it every few steps. At one point, my friend lost his balance and fell over, resulting in him having to go back to shore and dry off. Mr. Stanne put on his waders and joined me in completing the fishing. When we came back to shore our net contained a plethora of different aquatic species: mummichogs, Atlantic tomcod, white perch, eels, striped bass, and many crabs and shrimp. The entire class circled around to hear about each of the fish we caught. After releasing the fish, everyone left enriched by the experience of finding and learning about the species that live right next to us in our Hudson River. I can speak for myself and everyone else when I say that, all in all, it was very fun and will make for a great memory.
- Alex Constantine

[Highlights of the catch included one young-of-the-year Atlantic tomcod, born in late winter; a yearling striped bass; six mummichogs (killifish), five of them females with eggs; three American eels 10-18 inches long); about twenty blue crabs, 15-70 mm carapace width; and about twenty "penny-sized" shore shrimp (Palaemonetes spp). Salinity was about 2.3 parts-per-thousand [ppt]. Steve Stanne.]

spotted turtle in the grass

6/7 - Saugerties, HRM 102: We watched a spotted turtle with orange spots preparing to lay eggs in our lawn. In all the years we've watched turtles, we've never seen one in our lawn. This is about 900 feet from the nearest intermittent stream and about 1,200 feet from a wetland where we have seen spotted turtles on occasion over the past 25-30 years. We've seen both yellow-spotted and orange-spotted variants here and we've even seen an orange male mating with a yellow female. However, of the many sightings, all have been either in the wetland shallows or a short distance up a flat-water feeder stream, and never more than ten feet or so from water. This turtle had a carapace length of 4.25 inches; the largest spotted turtle I've ever measured was 4.62 inches. [Photo of spotted turtle courtesy of Dan Marazita.]
- Dan Marazita

[Spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) are designated as a "Species of Special Concern" in New York State. Among several measures for this designation, they have been determined to be in jeopardy due to adverse trends such as loss of habitat, and if not monitored could go into more serious decline and be listed as either an endangered or threatened species. Sexual maturity is reached in 8-10 years and most individuals live for at least 25 years. Some members of this species probably reach 50. NYSDEC.]

6/7 - Ulster County: Our local eaglets in NY142 and NY143 were now ten weeks old, too big to hide behind pine branches. There were clearly two nestlings in each. At NY143, both eaglets and one adult were tearing up the day's catch; the more robust nestling at NY143 has been impatiently practicing "hover flights" for a week now. I finally saw robust flapping at NY162 yesterday for the first time.
- Dave Lindemann

[The activities at these two Ulster County nests, as well as NY62 in Dutchess County, are in sync with each other and likely mirror the other two dozen nests along the Hudson. Tom Lake.]

6/8 - Saugerties, HRM 102: The spotted turtle was not around this morning but she made good progress on the hole, so she may have worked through the night. I'll see if she returns this evening, but I can't imagine her making such a long trek each day. We could see a vague trail through the grass to a stone wall, but no sign of her. We've seen map turtles take two to three days to complete a hole in shaley-gravel before laying.
- Dan Marazita

6/8 - Jersey City, NJ, Upper Bay, New York Harbor: This afternoon I spotted a great egret with a yellow tag (C12) feeding in the salt marsh at Liberty State Park.
- Mike Britt

6/9 - Saugerties, HRM 102: The spotted turtle never came back. Her classic little turtle nesting hole, although incomplete, was still there but no sign of her. At least it rained last night so I hope she has navigated her way back to the wetland pond or a more suitable nesting location.
- Dan Marazita

6/9 - Highland, HRM 75.5: I was watching the huge Hudson River carp coming in close to feed at a riverside restaurant's patrons' largess when a large beaver swam under the dock.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

6/9 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: With a cloudy dawn came a gray day. The only sounds from the woods were of a wood pewee with its plaintive question: "Pee-wee? Pee-wee!" Later I watched two common grackles relentlessly chasing two crows - one on one. After the combatants paused to perch, the crows would start chasing the grackles - the less maneuverable crows were at a disadvantage. It was hard to tell who the instigators were, although it was most likely grackle nest defense.
- Tom Lake

6/10 - Athens, HRM 118: We had an interesting sighting at Sleepy Hollow Lake today. We saw a snake at the shoreline that appeared to have choked on its meal. Its back was dry, it wasn't moving, and it had something sticking out of its mouth. However, after a wavelet washed over it, we noticed body movement and it appeared to be swallowing its meal. Shortly after it swam to a nearby rock and stayed under the overhang.
- Bill Cavanaugh, Renee Cavanaugh

[This was a northern water snake, a commonly seen reptile that, as the name suggests, frequents water bodies. They prey on fish and small mammals and swallow their prey whole. It is not uncommon for them to take considerable time swallowing large prey. They are native, non-venomous, and can grow to lengths in excess of four feet. Tom Lake.]

close up of a snapping turtle on the ground

6/10 - Highland, HRM 75.5: Strolling down the walk at my house today was a medium-sized snapping turtle.
- Vivian Yess Wadlin

[The is the time of the year when female snapping turtles leave their ponds and lakes and rivers and head inland, often up and over some incredibly difficult terrain, to lay their eggs. Tom Lake. [Photo of snapping turtle digging a nest for its eggs, courtesy of Steve Stanne.]

6/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Nestling bald eagles in the Northeast tend to fledge, or take their first flight from the nest, between 72 and 90 days of hatching. For NY62, today was Day 72. Over the last thirteen years, the average date for this pair to fledge their young has been Day 77.
- Tom Lake

6/11 - Coxsackie, HRM 124: Twice now I have seen a male blue grosbeak. Has anyone else seen this rare bird? I have not had any luck getting a photo. My first thought was indigo bunting, but it was deep royal blue with a thick black beak. He was on the ground under my bird feeder but I did not see him eat anything.
- Anne Cubeta

[Not impossible. However, they are rare enough to warrant more convincing details. If it ever shows up again, I'd sure like to hear about it. Rich Guthrie.]

6/11 - North Germantown, HRM 109: We pulled a seine on the boat launch ramp today. The catch was meager but contained several interesting fish. We caught banded killifish, spottail shiner, a yearling striped bass, and a tiny white sucker. The less usual catch was two spotfin shiners. We see this species upland in several tributaries, and occasionally in the tidal Hudson. They are a very silvery minnow with a pointed snout and diamond-shaped scales.
- Bob Schmidt, Nate Shoobs

[The spotfin shiner (Cyprinella spiloptera) is very common in the Mohawk River and, being native to the Mississippi River watershed, it is likely they made their way to the Hudson, at least in part, via the Erie and Barge canals. Tom Lake.]

6/11 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: Looking back on a four-hour school program, you know the seining was slow when the highlight was a ten-inch-long largemouth bass. More than one hundred seventh-graders from Haviland Middle School in Hyde Park braved persistent drizzle, occasional downpours, and threatening thunderstorms to help us sample the river. While the educators felt unfulfilled, the students told us that their reward was time away from school and a day at the river. That cheered us up, considerably.
- Tom Lake, Jim Herrington

6/11 - Manhattan, New York City, HRM 13.5: June had definitely come to Inwood Hill Park. Along the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, the field bindweed was blooming, as pretty as its cousin morning glory, and a red-winged blackbird was visiting a little patch that the NYC Parks Department had planted with native foliage. Along the path up through the Clove the progress of the year continued: where violets and lesser celandine had bloomed, jewelweed, completely absent a couple of weeks ago, was now abundant, though not yet flowering, and the clearweed was coming up too. Now tulip-tree petals, and a few complete flowers, were covering some paths. Up on the ridge, honeysuckle was still blooming, but now the common dayflower was coming up, and some fleabane was in flower. The Overlook Meadow was covered with waist-high mugwort, and where I saw one flower spike of motherwort last year, half a dozen of that odd plant were now blooming.
- Thomas Shoesmith

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