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Hudson River Almanac July 10 - July 16, 2014

OVERVIEW

Following the dire reports of no monarch butterfly sightings earlier this season, it was heartening to hear of what may be a resurgence, or just a tardy arrival. The American avocet continued its journey down the river, sighted in three more locations. The Hudson Valley's immature eagles and ospreys advanced their stories as well. And those readers interested in seeing the river's fish at first hand should check out the schedule for the Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Count on August 2.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

7/10 - Putnam County, HRM 54: The fields at Copperhead Cut on East Mountain were alive with flashes of bright orange flitting about the milkweed today. I counted dozens of monarch butterflies as they displayed their colors in the sun. They were beautiful to watch and, as I have noted that sightings are scarce this year, I was glad that we had not cut our fields so that the monarchs could access the milkweed plants that are in great abundance.
- Connie Mayer-Bakal

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

7/10 - Ulster County, HRM 90: While taking a morning walk on Spillway Road at the Ashokan Reservoir, we were overtaken by a mama common merganser leading 27 young on their morning's water-borne exercise. They paddled parallel to us, seemingly effortlessly but at far greater speed than we maintained. [Photo of hen common merganser with young courtesy of Dave Finkelstein.]
- Dave Finkelstein, Evelyn Letfuss

a female merganser with 27 young of the year mergansers swimming behind her

[According to the Birds of North America Online, mixed broods of more than 40 young have been observed in northeast Ontario. Although this behavior, called brood amalgamation, is well-known for common mergansers, it has not been well-studied. Amalgamation is not common with ducklings less than seven days old, but occurs frequently afterwards. Some authors suggest aggressive females "kidnap" young from less aggressive females, but no study has documented this. It may simply represent confused young joining incorrect mothers. Steve Stanne.]

7/10 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We had a brisk northwest wind this morning, and in mid-morning one of the eagle fledglings from NY62 was perched on top of a utility pole in the grassy field, a spot that had become a feeding perch. After it left, I went over to look at the portion of a catfish left in the grass. It was torn apart and the head was missing.
- Tom McDowell

[As the two immature eagles from nest NY62 expand their horizons and become independent, we can be fairly certain that this is a common scenario throughout the watershed as about two dozen other families go through the same process. It is rewarding to think back to 1997 when we had our first fledged bald eagle in 100 years (Greene County), and to reflect on how well they have recovered. Tom Lake.]

7/10 - Garrison, HRM 51: A pair of resident eastern phoebes successfully fledged three chicks in a nest over our front door. We watched as they took their first flights. Now the family seems absent from the nest so I guess the youngsters are on their own.
- Kathleen Kourie

7/10 - Ossining, HRM 33: As we rounded a curve this morning we came upon a large bird standing right in the road. At first we thought it might be one of the wild turkey poults that we've seen but as it flew across the road we saw that it was a Cooper's hawk! The bird made its way through the trees, flying parallel to our car before disappearing.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Linda Rivers, Jeanette Redmond

7/10 - Tarrytown, HRM 29: Motoring upriver in the RV Biglane looking for live oyster beds, I counted more than 30 jumping sturgeon over a six-hour period (noon-6:00 p.m.) a quarter-mile south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. I estimated their size range to be from 30-50 inches. Amazing!
- Jim Lodge

[Sturgeon are the stuff of myth and legend. In terms of evolution, they are a very ancient class of cartilaginous (non-bony) fishes whose ancestry dates back at least a hundred million years. Among their many unusual behavioral traits is their predilection for jumping several feet out of the water and then landing with a large and loud splash. There are Hudson River records of sturgeon leaping and landing in canoes and fishing boats. While drift-netting for American shad twenty years ago, Chris Lake and I had a five-footer leap, land on the gunwale of our boat, teeter, and then topple back into the river. Why they leap is a mystery. It may be a way to rid themselves of external parasites or to take in air to fill their swim bladder. Biologists are unsure. Tom Lake.]

7/11 - Norrie Point, HRM 85: A young great blue heron walked on a floating carpet of water chestnut, stalking and stabbing at fish. Suddenly it took a misstep, slipped, and fell beak-forward into the water. It recovered just as quickly and resumed its stately progress as if nothing happened.
- Pat Joel

7/11 - Croton Point, HRM 35: After fishing for three hours I managed only a single, 14-inch-long channel catfish. I'd hoped to catch some carp, but there was no jumping or other signs of their presence.
- Bill Greene

7/11 - Croton River, HRM 34: Lengthy observation this morning has convinced me the cell tower osprey is an only child. It seems unlikely that a healthy sibling could remain unseen in the nest, as the only child grows larger and more active each day. Two greater yellowlegs were foraging along the tide line at the boat ramp, the first I had seen here for many weeks.
- Christopher Letts

7/12 - New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: This evening, I watched dozens of northern rough-winged swallows winging south down the Hudson River. Also, there were about 150 tree swallows flying around and perched in a dead elm at the Coxsackie Creek Grasslands Preserve.
- Richard Guthrie

7/12 - Croton River, HRM 34: This morning we spotted one of the adult ospreys perched near its nest on the cell tower near the Croton-Harmon train station. For a while there was no action aside from the bird preening its feathers. Then another adult, we guessed the female, circled high above the nest, a fish held tightly in its talons. It made several wide loops around the nest and then landed, poking its head inside, feeding the nestling.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

7/13 - Ulster County, HRM 85: On our annual family blueberry picking outing in the Shawangunks, we came across a beautiful timber rattlesnake, about 30 inches long, just about to moult. This was my first Hudson Valley sighting of a rattlesnake!
- Rebecca Houser

[The timber rattlesnake is the largest of the three venomous snakes in New York - copperhead and massasauga being the others. It is a threatened species in New York State and, as with patches of orchids, reports of sighting locations are purposely vague to protect them from collectors. They typically reach three to four feet in length but have been reported to grow to more than six feet long. Tom Lake.]

a plant, spatulate-leaved sundew close up

7/13 - Harriman State Park, HRM 42: On a hike through Harriman State Park, it was pleasant to see the carnivorous plants now fully in bloom in a remote bog. On floating mats of lime-green sphagnum moss, the flowers of the pitcher plants, vaguely reminiscent of ruddy daffodils, towered above the diminutive white floral clusters of the sticky sundews. Despite their affinity for insect flesh, these unique plants produce exquisitely beautiful blossoms - the whole scene resembling something from the Amazon rainforest. [Photo of spatulate-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia) courtesy of Mike Adamovic.]
- Mike Adamovic

7/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie: The two bald eaglets were certainly vocal but were pretty inactive by the time I arrived today. Mom (banded N42) flew in with a small fish at midday. Both eaglets were high in their nest tree, but visible.
- Debi Kral

7/14 - Town of Poughkeepsie: When Mom brought a fish to the nest in midday, only one of the fledglings got to eat. The other was visible unhappy. He followed Mom out to the river before returning back to the nest tree to complain some more.
- Bob Rightmyer

an adult and a young great blue heron in a nest in a tree

7/14 - Bedford, HRM 35: The great blue heron rookery was very quiet today. Most of the nests were empty, with six nests having one to three young and three adults at three of the nests. The number of remaining youngsters in the nests is about nine or ten. It appears that their development was behind the others and they are not ready to fledge. Many of the young were seen flying about the area, but not back to their nest. The ones that have left are likely perched nearby waiting for a meal from their parents or are learning to fish for themselves. [Photo of adult and immature great blue heron courtesy of Jim Steck.]
- Jim Steck

7/14 - Croton Point, HRM 35: I scanned the low tide beach: mallards, geese, a couple of gulls, and an avocet. Wow! And a lovely specimen! This was my first Westchester County avocet [See 7/8 - Newburgh]. It was healthy, taking off and landing several times, spending most of its time wading along the shore.
- Christopher Letts

[This was only the fifth Westchester County record of American avocet and the first since 1997. Croton Point had one other sighting in 1979. Mike Botchnick, Larry Trachtenberg.]

7/15 - Town of Poughkeepsie: We searched the tree-tops for the two immature eagles from nest NY62, but then spotted both of them feeding in a grassy field. As they came together one spread its wings and went at the other. They tussled for a second before one walked away. However, within minutes they tussled again - apparently the meal was not enough for two and the adults had not covered the chapter on sharing as yet.
- Denise McGuinness, Christopher McGuinness

7/15 - Putnam Valley, HRM 55.5: I witnessed a garter snake (about 18 inches long) grab and jaw-down a small frog. The frog had been in mid-leap into adjacent candytuft when it was taken. The strike-to-grab took about a second; in no more than eight seconds, no part of the frog was still visible in the snake's mouth. The snake slithered into the adjacent candytuft within ten seconds after the frog disappeared into its mouth.
- Nancy P Durr

[Candytuft is a low-growing evergreen perennial (Iberis sp.) that blooms in spring with umbels of flowers. Nancy P Durr.]

7/15 - Piermont, HRM 25: What was most probably the American avocet spotted at Croton Point yesterday was now at Piermont Pier.
- Evan Mark

7/15 - Manhattan, HRM 13.5: James Knox found an American avocet loafing with some gulls on a wooden dock along the Hudson River at the west end of Dyckman Street at Inwood Hill Park.
- Nadir Souirgi

[This was the fourth sighting of the American avocet across one week and 47 river miles. Its origin and destination were very much unknown. Tom Lake.]
7/16 - Westchester County, HRM 44: Today I counted at least fifty bobolinks, mostly fledglings, but adult males and females as well, in North Salem.
- Jim Nordgren

[Thanks to the North Salem Open Land Foundation and Bedford Audubon, a group of landowners has agreed in recent years to delay haying of large fields until mid-July. With earlier springs, haying now overlaps with nesting which results in near 100% mortality of bobolink chicks. This effort began in 2009 and has resulted in the successful rearing of several generations of bobolinks. This is a wonderful example of citizens coming together for a good ecological cause. Jim Nordgren.]

7/16 - Croton River, HRM 34: As I watched the osprey nest on the cell tower at the south end of the Croton-Harmon train station today, I saw two nestlings jumping up and down while flapping their wings. One of the adults perched on an antenna out of the reach of the excited and energetic activity in the nest. Judging by today's observation, it appears that they may be only a short time from fledgling.
- Hugh L. McLean

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