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Hudson River Almanac July 3 - July 9, 2014

OVERVIEW

There were some uncommon sightings this week - from sharks to salamanders, doves to shorebirds. These come at a time when the rather steady summer weather tends to promote stasis in the wildlife of the Hudson Valley.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/8 - Orange County, HRM 59: While tracking sonic-tagged shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon for the DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit in Newburgh Bay, Peter Kinney and Joe Lydon spotted an American avocet floating along not far from the Newburgh boat launch. According to Ken McDermott, this was only the third record of American avocet in Orange County. The most recent was August 7, 2013, at Newburgh, by Melissa Fischer and Stephen Fischer.
- Tom Lake

[American avocets, among the prettiest of shorebirds, are usually found in the South during the winter, from Georgia through Mexico, or the West in summer, New Mexico to British Columbia to Manitoba. However they have been seen more frequently along the Atlantic Coast during the past 30 years. In colonial days they nested in southern New Jersey and at other spots near the coast. However, from the mid-1800s they became exceedingly rare at any time in the East. It has only been with the preservation of coastal marshes that avocets have been able to slowly expand their post-breeding wanderings. American avocets have a long slender upturned bill with which they feed by sweeping back and forth along mudflats and shallow water. They are good swimmers, having partially webbed feet. Stan DeOrsey.]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/3 - Rhinebeck, HRM 90: I have been seeing at least two visits a day by a single male and a single female hummingbird. I haven't seen any skirmishes, so I suspect these could be a mated pair, or even four individuals in two mated pairs. Once the young have hatched, there's bound to be a lot of aerial aggression.
- Phyllis Marsteller

7/3 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Both NY62 fledglings were becoming more at ease negotiating the world outside the nest. The size differentiation between them was becoming less apparent. For more than an hour we watched them, one at each end of an open, grassy field, not far from the nest tree. The field had become the prime location for food drops. Mom flew over one fledgling and dropped a channel catfish, eagerly consumed, and then left. The other immature, seemingly content, climbed to the top of a pile of wood chips, spread its wings like a cormorant, and waited to be served. With the air temperature in the 90s, and high humidity, it was cooling off.
- Bob Rightmyer, Tom Lake

7/3 - Blooming Grove, HRM 55: I watched a hummingbird this morning working over a mass of Canada lilies. I was surprised to see the bird visiting the top of each flower where it attached to the stem. On closer examination, I realized that the "bell" of the lily was made of overlapping petals and the hummer was simply slipping its beak between those petals and not dealing with the stamens and anthers. Good for the bird but not much help with pollinating the plant.
- Betsy Hawes

7/3 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Is it that the red bee balm has come into its fine season, or just some tardy hummingbird arrival? There are now at least one male and one female hummingbird at the feeders and the bee balm. Nice, but nothing like the hummingbird "riot" of past years. Along with those several hummingbirds was a flock of little American goldfinches feeding and perching, darting around my garden.
- Robin Fox
7/3 - Bronx, New York City: It has been two days since we electro-shocked (fished) for American eels below the 182 Street Dam on the Bronx River. Not only did we capture more than 80 eels on two passes, but we caught numerous crayfish and blue crabs. This may be the only site in New York City where freshwater crayfish and marine blue crabs mingle.
- John Waldman, Richard DeMarte, Jake Labelle

[Electro-fishing, or electro-shocking, is a common scientific tool used by biologists to sample fish populations. The process uses two electrodes, anode and cathode, to send electric current into the water to stun fish. A voltage difference causes the current to flow from one to the other; fish in the vicinity are affected and temporally lose their ability to navigate, allowing them to be collected with a dip net. Within a few minutes, the fish return to normal and suffer no lasting effects. Tom Lake.]

7/3 - Manhattan, HRM 2: A Eurasian collared-dove was spotted this morning in Manhattan's Chelsea Waterside Park on the corner of Eleventh Avenue and 23rd Street. It was first reported a week ago across the West Side Highway at Pier 63, basically across the street from where the bird was seen today.
- Isaac Grant

[The Eurasian collared-dove (Streptopelia decaocto) is broadly distributed in Eurasia where it is native. According to the Birds of North American Online, in the mid-1970s, a breeder brought the species to the Bahamas. After escape of a few individuals during a burglary, the breeder released the rest of his stock, approximately 50 birds. An additional release occurred in 1976 on Guadeloupe. Populations of the species in the West Indies and much of North America presumably originated with subsequent dispersal from these two introduction sites. By the late 1980s, the dove was reported from several Florida counties, Georgia, and Arkansas. Since then, its range expansion has been explosive. Steve Stanne.]

7/3 - Brooklyn, New York City: We were watching the traffic in Gowanus Bay and the East River when we heard "gronk, gronk!" We looked up to see a pair of ravens inspecting roof tops and penthouse gardens as they flew past. We were used to seeing them along the Palisades, but this was a new experience.
- Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

7/4 - Town of Poughkeepsie: Three inches of rain had fallen from the fringes of Hurricane Arthur, leaving the grassy field near the eagle nest sodden. An early morning visit to the "food tree" confirmed the latest drop. After a short while the raggedly-tailed immature from NY62 flew off, giving me the opportunity to see what had him so engrossed. Underneath the dead sycamore, I found the torn remnants of a gray squirrel.
- Tom Lake

brown and white marbled salamander on a rock

7/5 - Ulster County, HRM 95: I came upon a marbled salamander near the intermittent woodland pool at Onteora Lake (Bluestone Wild Forest) in Ulster County during a walk led by Michael Drillinger for the Woodstock Land Conservancy. We had heavy rains the day before so the trail was wet and the pool had plenty of water. [Photo of marbled salamander courtesy Brian Houser.]
- Rosalind Dickinson

[The marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) is a Species of Special Concern in New York State. Among several measures for this designation is a determination that the species is in some jeopardy due to adverse trends to which it is vulnerable, such as loss of habitat, and that - if not monitored - these could lead to more serious decline and listing as either an Endangered or Threatened species in New York. NYSDEC.]

7/5 - Walden, HRM 65: I spotted an incredible glint of metallic blue as I was looking along the edge of some woods. Holding my breath, I hoped to get a better view as I mentally went through the bird field guide to decide what it could be. "Indigo bunting" materialized and the bird remained in view as it hunted along the edge of the brush and fallen tree trunks. Then I noticed it was making a regular visit to a low branch. I finally spotted a brown fledgling crouched along a woody branch. The male brought it mouthfuls every few minutes. Finally, he arrived with a very large spider with the legs waving outside his beak. After this, the fledgling and adult flew off into the woods.
- Patricia Henighan

7/6 - Rensselaer County, HRM 134: I watched an adult bald eagle fly overhead while picnicking at Schodack Island State Park. The eagle was paralleling the river moving north to south, not very high above the tree cover. It went into the trees and I did not see it again.
- Vivian S. James

7/6 - Milan, HRM 90: While sitting on our porch today a butterfly landed on my wife's hand. It stayed there for some time before fluttering off. A short time later it returned and this time the great spangled fritillary landed on my head.
- Marty Otter, Carol Otter

7/6 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The training of the NY62 fledglings was going well. Food was being delivered outside the nest as well as into the nest on occasion.
- Terry Hardy, Bob Rightmyer, Tom McDowell

[The "training" of newly fledged eagles can be a slow process. This is when we fully appreciate that each one has a unique personality. Some years they catch on quickly and are soon trying to secure their own food. Other years, such as this one, the learning curve is protracted. Eventually, however, they understand or are willing to try, and they finally achieve independence. Tom Lake.]

7/6 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: Thank goodness the red bee balm was in bloom. There seemed to be a couple more hummingbirds around and a bit more aerial activity. Could it be that the first mated pair have produced offspring already?
- Robin Fox

7/6 - Croton Point, HRM 34.5: A solitary sandpiper was feeding in a puddle at the base of the Point this morning. That seemed early for them.
- Larry Trachtenberg

two young bald eagles in flight sparring

7/7 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The lighting was harsh and the NY62 eaglets were too far away for good photographic opportunities, but it was wonderful to watch them play and kite on the strong wind. At one point, one of the parents delivered a fish. [Photo of bald eagles sparring courtesy Deborah Tracy-Kral.]
- Debi Kral

[A digital image suggested that the fish deliverer was Dad. While much of eagle behavior is instinctive, some of it is mimicking the adults. This is the time of the season when Mom and Dad teach the immatures not only to find their own food, but to be "eagles" in every sense. The fledglings were becoming more and more adapted to the wild each day. Mom and Dad now worry less about them and take on the role of mentor. Tom Lake.]

7/7 - Fishkill, HRM 61: As I approached my backyard bird feeders, I heard a persistent clucking sound although I couldn't see the source. In a flurry of feathers, a hen wild turkey and her seven poults flew to the large branches of a black walnut
- Ed Spaeth

7/7 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: This morning I counted two females and one male ruby-throated hummingbird. There may have been more, but at one point all three were sitting along the fence. When they began their jousting, I couldn't be sure there weren't more, but I was happily certain of at least three.
- Robin Fox

7/7 - Croton Point, HRM 34: I watched a white-tailed deer sneak across a service road. The velvet-covered rack on the burly eight-pointer suggested a season other than summer.
- Christopher Letts

7/8 - Ravena, HRM 133.5: There is a dead tree next to our house in which the neighborhood green herons like to perch. This morning one was sitting there at first light while a cardinal, a couple of branches over, was singing his head off at the tail end of the dawn chorus.
- Larry Roth

7/8 - Ulster County, HRM 79: While walking my usual route around Mohonk's foothills I noticed a large butterfly in the distance fluttering rapidly in the blustery wind. The distance was too great for a positive identification, so I wandered amongst the thickest milkweed patches and paused. Circling behind me was my second monarch of the summer. As I stood in the field this monarch circled the biggest patches occasionally alighting on a milkweed plant. The hayfields were still not cut; Mohonk's tenant cattleman said they would avoid cutting all the large patches of milkweed and would not begin until the bobolinks and other ground nesters were finished breeding. I was struck by the expansive amounts of milkweed in blossom. I'm pretty confident these fields haven't had this much milkweed in the last decade.
- Bob Ottens

7/8 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The eagle fledglings from NY62 were learning how important it is capitalize on opportunities. An adult dropped a fish off on top of a dead tree, a hundred yards from the nest, that has become a food drop. Both fledglings flew over but one got there first and ate its fill before moving away. The second one came in to get whatever was left.
- Kate Courtney, Mark Courtney

7/8- Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I was on my porch in the evening as the air cooled very slightly. The hummingbirds were trading jibes at the feeders, a small posse of cottontail rabbits were feeding on the lawn (they've finished my garden), and mourning doves were singing their final "coos" of the day.
- Robin Fox

7/9 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We came upon another fish left in the grassy field where the fledglings had consumed what they wanted. The remnants were of a ten-inch-long brown bullhead. We were treated to a twenty minute air show this afternoon by the immatures, including some pretty cool acrobatics.
- Bob Rightmyer, Tom McDowell

7/9 - Croton River, HRM 34: The "cell tower ospreys" are endlessly fascinating - viewable, approachable, unflappable, vocal. The model parents seem constantly in attendance or at least in view bringing fish. They raised three fledglings last year. This year I can only see one that is almost as large as mom and dad, and that one is often stretching and practicing flight.
- Christopher Letts

smooth dogfish on a walkway

7/9 - Manhattan, HRM 0: I was walking along the Battery Park City Esplanade in late afternoon when a fisherman caught what appeared to be two small sharks. [Photo of smooth dogfish courtesy of Matthew Fenton.]
- Matthew Fenton

[Photos revealed that these were smooth dogfish. Smooth dogfish (Triakidae), plus the spiny dogfish (Squalidae), are by far the most common sharks found in the lower estuary and New York Harbor. Both can reach about five feet in length, but neither is a threat to humans. The smooth dogfish favors shellfish while the spiny dogfish is more of a fish eater. We have encountered both of these dogfish as far upriver as Englewood (NJ), river mile 13. That is not to say that both might venture farther upriver if conditions suit them. Tom Lake.]

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