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Hudson River Almanac June 26 - July 2, 2014

OVERVIEW

Young-of-the-year fishes, the progeny of springtime spawning, were echoing the success of their season. Impressive numbers of river herring and striped bass, many not more than an inch long, were filling the inshore shallows south to the Hudson Highlands. Not to be outdone, in the uplands young-of-the-year bald eagles were exploring their new world on the wing, learning to be eagles.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

6/28 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 66: We heard them before we saw them; then they popped into view over a grassy knoll: a pair of adult killdeer. These migratory shorebirds are commonly seen as adults, but today two tiny, palm-sized nestlings followed them over the top. We watched as they flitted along, this way and that, not plotting a true course, just pleased with green grass, freedom, and the company of their parents.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[Killdeer nest widely in the state with the exception of the Adirondacks and the Catskills. We don't frequently get the opportunity to see small youngsters, but it does happen. The ones I recall seeing had the same color pattern as the parents, but made out of down, not feathers. There is only room on their tiny necks for one dark band, not the two that adults have. Barbara Butler, R.W. Waterman Bird Club.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

6/26 - Town of Schodack, HRM 137.5: Unlike some other observers in the Almanac, I am happy to say that my yard has had its usual quota of ruby-throated hummingbirds (at least four pairs) this summer, although they seemed just a bit late arriving this year. There will be a bird on the feeder, on average, every minute by September when the hatchlings have left their nests.
- Tom Warner

6/26 - Selkirk, HRM 135: I went to the Henry Hudson Park to see how the young were doing in a nearby nest. The new foliage made it difficult, but I was able to see one eaglet sitting on the nest. An adult flew in from the river that was the color of dark chocolate milk and quickly disappeared into the trees.
- Roberta Jeracka

a small mouth bass laying on a net

6/26 - Kowawese, HRM 59: First light came at 5:00 a.m. on a sultry summer morning. In the immediate wake of a series of violent thunderstorms and heavy rain (0.46 inches), the clouds had lowered to cover the northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands. Storm King had once again earned its name. As we landed our seine it was fairly full of baby alewives 34-43 millimeters [mm] long, the first we'd seen this season. The nursery was in full swing as we also caught young-of-the-year [YOY] spottail shiners (22-24 mm) and striped bass (21-22 mm). In the fold of the net we also found a nine-inch-long smallmouth bass that promptly spit up four small alewives. The water was refreshingly warm (73 degrees F), and river salinity became measurable here for the first time this season - 1.5 parts per thousand [ppt]. [Photo of smallmouth bass courtesy Steve Stanne.]
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

6/26 - Crugers, HRM 39: As we looked over the spatterdock-covered Ogilvie's Pond, we saw a beautiful male red-winged blackbird hopping from one plant to another, picking up pieces of vegetation. After stopping on several spatterdock leaves, it flew into the phragmites that covered one shore of the pond. It kept up the same routine for quite awhile; was it building a nest? Last summer we saw a male red-winged blackbird pecking at a great blue heron when it ventured too close to the phragmites.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

6/27 - Millbrook, HRM 82: "Something" tipped over our tip-top full and heavy trash can last night. Yesterday, a biker passing our house told us he had seen a sow black bear and her cubs just a short distance down Oak Summit Road. Coincidence?
- Bill Jackson

6/27 - Town of Poughkeepsie: One of the fledglings was really making the rounds today, tree-hopping all day and into the early evening. When it landed in a tree across an open field from the nest, it met a mockingbird. The mockingbird dove on the immature eagle, grabbed at its back and tail feathers.
- Bob Rightmyer, Debbie Quick, Terry Hardy

[In years past, fledglings from this pair (NY62) have had early adventures with blue jays, crows, red-winged blackbirds, Baltimore orioles, and now northern mockingbirds. Tom Lake.]

6/27 - Beacon, HRM 61: There were easily a hundred Canada geese foraging along the waterfront. This spring's goslings were now of the same plumage as the adults and nearly the same size.
- Tom Lake

6/27 - Newburgh, HRM 60: A raven has been hanging around and perching somewhat ominously on the rooftop of the Ebenezer Baptist Church next to the SUNY Orange County Community College. Its calls and sounds are hard to describe, but it always likes to make its presence known, sounding startlingly like a raspy human voice. Today it was "speaking" rather crankily to a saucy mockingbird that was attempting to hang out as well on its roof-peak. The sound seemed threatening but with a mischievous tone, even a sense of humor.
- Joanne Zipay

[There are nesting ravens not far away on Breakneck Ridge and Storm King Mountain (river miles 56-57). Tom Lake.]

6/27 - Denning's Point, HRM 60: An immature bald eagle was perched in a dead cottonwood at the base of the Point, one that is often frequented by raptors (osprey, harriers, eagles) and allows a good view of the landscape. The vast acreage of the bay was now choked, bank-to-bank, with the invasive water chestnut, except for a few small patches of native arrow arum (Peltandra virginica). Six great blue herons were evenly spaced across the green mat but hunting would not be easy in the rising tide.
- Tom Lake

[There are many measures of "nativeness." Designations generally are for either native and nonnative. For nonnative, they range from introduced to "alien invasives," depending on how well they play with others. The most useful measure might be its presence or absence in September 1609. If the species was here when the Dutch arrived, it is native; if not, it is non-native. Tom Lake.]

6/27 - Manhattan, HRM 0.1: With reports of few, if any, monarch butterflies sightings this season, I wanted to let you know that I saw one today in Battery Park City on the river promenade.
- Matthew Wills

6/28 - Selkirk, HRM 135: Early this morning I heard the yips and hollers of coyotes for the first time this year. It lasted for a while and then all quieted down. About a half hour later I heard a howl much farther off than before. A family, even an extended family, on the move, hunting? This may be the answer as to why we've lost two guinea hens in the past two weeks.
- Roberta Jeracka

6/28 - West Hurley, HRM 93: I found some sure signs that summer had arrived: St. Johnswort and milkweed were blooming, and the hummingbirds were regularly coming to the feeders. There was a black bear in my yard this morning and a doe with her fawn this afternoon.
- Roberta Jeracka

6/29 - Milan, HRM 90: We put out orange halves for Baltimore orioles about a week ago. They visited them for a short time and then seemed to move on. A short time later a gray catbird arrived and has been a regular visitor ever since. A red-bellied woodpecker and chipmunks also help themselves on occasion.
- Marty Otter

629 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The two young eagles from NY62 were perched in a white pine not far from the nest at midday. Mom arrived with a fish but the transfer to the fledglings was not successful. She flew to the nest and dropped in the fish, with the two immatures close behind. A short while later, Dad came flying through the trees with an eel also destined for the nest, where he dropped it.
- Terry Hardy, Tom McDowell

6/29 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I spread a trail mix for birds on the flat railing of a deck to find out who is hiding in the woods. Out came chipping sparrows, song sparrows, a white-throated sparrow (usually up in the mountains at this time of year), house sparrows, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, goldfinches, cardinals, nuthatches, catbirds, mockingbirds, and then blue jays, the bullies of the bunch. The blue jays search through the seeds for peanut halves, stuff as many as they can in their mouth, and then fly away. The current record is six peanut halves by a beast of a blue jay who probably could have fit more.
- Tom Lake

five young of the year alewives lined up with a dime for scale

6/30 - Kowawese, HRM 59: A strong southerly breeze was blowing up through the Hudson Highlands at dawn, pushing rollers up on the beach. The water and the air were both 75 degrees F. Despite eighteen days with almost no rain, salinity was still only a modest 1.5 ppt. Recent downpours to the north in the watershed were compensating. After hauling our 85-foot seine only once, several hundred YOY fishes lay in the folds of the seine: striped bass (36-43 mm); blueback herring (sample average length 29.4 mm); and alewives (sample avg. 45.5 mm). The herring would require some microscope work. We gently reversed the net and allowed most of them to swim free. [Photo of YOY alewives courtesy Tom Lake.]
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[With tiny YOY fishes, correct identification frequently takes a microscope. River herring - alewives and blueback herring - are easy to confuse at any age or size. Determination comes from measuring their eye diameter relative to the length of their snout, their body depth, and the color of their stomach lining (peritoneum). Tom Lake.]

6/30 - Bedford, HRM 35: The great blue heron rookery had the usual amount of chatter from the nestlings. That is the only way to describe the vocalizations from a group of large nest-bound birds. There are about ten active nests, with two to five young birds per nest, for an estimated 30 nestlings in this small rookery (larger rookeries may number in the hundreds of nests).The young are nearly the size of the adults and at some point it will be hard to tell them apart. The adults sport a pair of black plumes on the top of their head while the young have what could be described as a fuzzy topknot. There has been some "branching" activity. In several cases, lone birds will climb ten to twenty feet from the nest. Facing away from the nest, they give the appearance of not having figured out how to get back.
- Jim Steck

6/30 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: On the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek two dozen Canada geese were gathered near a white mulberry tree on the bank. A boy was shaking the branches and tossing the ripe berries to them. I tasted a couple - they were amazingly sweet. Some hybrid of yarrow was blooming yellow, with a few flowers of purple echinacea (coneflowers) and blue, ragged-petaled chicory. Further along the shore, plant growth urgently filled the space between the water and the fence, plants crowding, intertwining, climbing on each other. Curly dock made a pole for field bindweed. Bittersweet nightshade, its purple-and-yellow blossoms now fading, insinuated its fruiting stems among plants I cannot name, while field peppergrass, Pennsylvania smartweed and white sweet clover bloomed between them along with black nightshade and foliage of porcelain berry, mugwort, and burdock. Up on the ridge at Inwood Hill Park, the day-lilies were now blooming! Hundreds of them fairly glowed in sunlight along many paths, so that it was easy to overlook the other plants. Poison ivy now had berries, and some black raspberries were ripening. Mulberries, both red and white, were falling on paths, and some crabapples as well. I saw one lovely long-fruited anemone (Anenome cylindrica) on my way down to Broadway.
- Thomas Shoesmith

7/1 - Defreestville, Rensselaer County, HRM 142: We heard an incredibly loud and repeating whistle outside the Van Alen House. It sounded like someone was calling a dog. We looked out and spotted a mama woodchuck and her four young. It was the woodchuck whistling, which reminded us of the colloquial name for woodchucks, "whistling pig." We believe this family is living under the disabled access ramp to the front door.
- Roberta Jeracka

[The Luykas Van Alen house, built in 1737 in the style of eighteenth century rural residences in the Netherlands, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tom Lake.]

7/1 - North Germantown, HRM 109: Three days ago, in the late afternoon, I heard a racket as if all the local chipmunks were high in a tree, complaining at once. I investigated and found an immature eagle on a high branch. The bird stopped calling as soon as it saw me. There is an eagle nest across the river in Inbocht Bay and I see the adults frequently, but this was the youngest that I recalled seeing. Today I spotted an adult eagle on a nearby limb, probably the fledgling's mom or pop.
- Kaare Christian

7/1 - New Paltz, HRM 78: This afternoon I walked with our dogs down Lenape Lane, marveling at how all the milkweed was in blossom. Its abundant beauty filled the fields but I couldn't help but feel sad that no monarchs were fluttering from plant to plant. Then, almost on cue with a wind gust, there was my first monarch butterfly of the year. It disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived. In last summer's travels I spied only two. Hopefully I can surpass that total this year.
- Bob Ottens

7/1 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The two NY62 immatures were perched in the nest tree, living the good life. They had their freedom and room service as well. The adults would have to get serious on weaning them off food delivery. A strong southwest breeze had the broad tulip-tree leaves and the fledgling's feathers fluttering, which helped lessen the 91 degree F air temperature and stifling humidity.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

7/1 - Hathaway's Glen, HRM 63: The water flowing down the fall line to the river was 68 degrees F; a couple hundred feet away in the Hudson, the water was 77. Several tiger swallowtails were lined up at the edge of the cool-water pools re-hydrating. We found many blue crab moults (34-36 mm) along the tide line, a common summer sighting around the new and full moon. One haul of our 85-footer netted more than 300 YOY river herring, all of which, as far as we could tell, were blueback herring (average length 35.7 mm). We quickly gathered a sample to identify and measure, and then eased the net back into the river with few casualties. Those that did not swim away were destined for the claws of the blue crabs that waited patiently in the shallows - nothing goes to waste. Others in the net included striped bass (average 34.8 mm), spottail shiners (32.7 mm), tessellated darters (28.5 mm), one white sucker (48 mm), and a dozen or more lavender-hued, adult male banded killifish.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

a blue crab with its recent molt beside it

[As a crustacean, blue crabs have an exoskeleton (their skeleton is on the outside) and must moult periodically as they grow to accommodate their increasing internal body size. For reasons of stronger and higher tides with greater access to shoreline niches, blue crabs tend to moult more frequently around the full and new moons when the reach of tide is the greatest. As a result, it is not uncommon to catch blue crabs around the time of the full and new moon (6/26) that have recently shed. Tom Lake. Photo of recently moulted blue crab (right) and the exoskeleton it left behind courtesy Steve Stanne.]

7/1 - Crugers, HRM 39: Passing Ogilvie's Pond we noticed a female wood duck and her two ducklings standing on the cement wall of the pond. As we stopped to watch they flew into the water. With the mother leading and the ducklings following, they made their way through the spatterdock which, in some places, was taller than they were. As we were watching them circling around and ducking their bills in the water, a white-tailed doe came by, followed by a beautiful spotted fawn.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

7/2 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Mom arrived with a fish today and the larger of the two fledglings from NY62 joined her in a field near the nest. Almost immediately the pair got spooked by some loud noises and took off. Mom soon returned, however, recovered the fish - a foot-long channel catfish - and took it to the nest.
- Bob Rightmyer

[The presence of channel catfish in the river is not surprising. They are widely farm-raised in aquaculture and occasionally stocked in the watershed. The New York State canal system, connecting the Great Lakes, where they are considered native, to the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, may have played a part as well. J.R. Greeley did not find them during his 1936 Biological Survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed. By most accounts, they have been around since the mid-to-late 1980s, in small numbers at first, then many more. By the middle-to-late 1990s, they were well established and YOY began to appear. Tom Lake.]

7/2 - Kowawese, HRM 59: Following torrential thunderstorms, high wind, and heavy rain (1.5"), we came upon a half-dozen empty wedge rangia clam shells (Rangia cuneta), strewn at the tide line. We had not seen them here since 2002.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Wedge rangia are a bivalve mollusk native to more southerly brackish coastal and inshore waters like Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. It is believed that they were inadvertently introduced to the lower Hudson River about 25 years ago through the ballast water of commercial vessels. They are now found as far upriver as Newburgh. Dave Strayer.]

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