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What's Happening on the Hudson River in February

harbor seal on ice floeWinter still has a firm hold on the Hudson Valley this month, but there can be surprises. A warm mild spell might bring some black bears out of their dens early, searching for food. (Those of you with backyard bird feeders, beware!) Harbor seals are reported in the estuary during the winter. Present all year round, they are never plentiful, but easiest to see when their dark bodies contrast sharply against an ice flow. Young harp seals have also been showing up in recent years. Often people suspect these seals of being injured or even dead - strangely enough, that stiff "banana" posture is how seals often rest. However, if something appears wrong, you can report it to the Riverhead Foundation's 24 hour Hotline at (631) 369-9829.

Mid-month, eagles start performing aerial courtship displays. Their breeding season begins, appropriately, around Valentine's Day. These graceful "aerial ballets" can include mid-air talon grabs and wing touches, dramatic free falls and loops, and perfectly symmetrical shadow flights. Some will also be spotted carrying branches to refurbish nests, but most of these pairs will return to more northern nesting grounds in a month or so.

This is the traditional maple syrup production month, with the ideal being warm days in the 40s with nights below freezing, which allows the sugar maple sap to flow and stop on a daily cycle. Check events calendars for maple syrup-related events and celebrations. Large sugar bushes will be in operation throughout the region. "Sugar bush" is the name for the assemblage of several components that, when put into operation, produce maple syrup. This includes the stand of sugar maples, each tree tapped and hung with collection buckets or tubing for conducting the sap to large evaporation pans. The pans are visible from afar as smoke rises from the wood fire beneath and steam billows from the sap slowly being reduced to syrup.

February brings noticeably lengthening days, allowing for more outdoor activities. In addition, the clear, ice-crystal skies can make for some of the best sunrises and sunsets of the year. Keep an eye out for the earliest male red-winged blackbirds, who, true to the name of "early birds", brave the last few winter storms for rights to the best breeding territories in their marsh habitats. They remind me of early Black Friday shoppers, shivering outside stores in the pre-dawn light.

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