Hudson River Almanac 12/1/15 – 12/6/15

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swimming gray seal by John Carl D’annibale courtesy Albany Times-Union

Hudson River Almanac
December 1 – 6, 2015
Compiled by Tom Lake, Consulting Hudson River Estuary Program Naturalist


Without a doubt the big story of the week was the rescue of the gray seal in the upper Hudson above tidewater. Rather than highlight any one entry here, we will let the sequence of events surrounding the gray seal unfold as they happened. Except as noted, the photos by John Carl D’annibale are used here thanks to the kind permission of the Albany TImes-Union; visit the Times-Union website to see more.


seal head shot by John Carl D’annibale courtesy Albany Times-Union12/1 – Saratoga County, HRM 164: This was Day 130 for the gray seal marooned above tidewater. Time was running out before the onset of winter’s ice. We were getting very worried since the locks were closed and river level had dropped significantly for winter. The Hudson could eventually freeze over, severely limiting the seal’s ability to haul out of the water.
Then we got a break! The New York State Canal Corporation (Fort Edward Section) was draining Lock One today for scheduled winter maintenance – done on a seven-year cycle – when the Station Chief Joe Czyzewski noticed that the seal had re-entered the lock. He quickly closed the door, trapping the seal inside. This provided an unexpected opportunity for rescue. Riverfront resident and wildlife rehabilitator Shannon Fitzgerald immediately called The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
– Tom Lake

12/1 – Saratoga County, HRM 164: In response to a question as to the diet of the gray seal, I recalled a rather rare moment a few days ago when the gray seal showed itself with a large carp cross-ways in his mouth. He was eating well.
– John Carl D’annibale

12/1 – Dutchess County, HRM 68: This afternoon an adult bald eagle was perched high on a pine as I was scanning the lake below. Once it noticed me it took off and I got a good look at its legs. They were banded. One band appeared to be orange (Massachusetts or Quebec), but the photo image quality was not good enough to read the alphanumerics. Within a few minutes of its leaving, all of the mallards returned from the north side of the lake.
– Deborah Tracy-Kral

12/1 – Bedford, HRM 35: Today was the last day of the 2015 season at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch and the skies were empty. A season that was full of great weather ended with a foggy rainy day.
– Charlie Plimpton

12/2 – Saratoga County, HRM 164: On Day 131, The Riverhead Foundation requested permission from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct a rescue operation for the gray seal trapped in Lock One of the Hudson-Champlain Canal. NOAA agreed with the plan, and we were off!
– Kim Durham

12/2 – Kingston, HRM 92: I was in the backyard playing fetch with Filbert and Charlotte when the birds began flying in. Three. Thirty. Three hundred. Thousands came, filling tree tops and branches in seconds, their calls killing the quiet of the afternoon. I thought of Hitchcock. Then like a wave hitting hard sand this unit of birds exploded skyward, moving off, filling new trees. I could not see what had frightened them but time after time I continued to hear the wave sound even though they’d disappeared from my sight. I stood silent, marveling how nature takes me out of myself and brings me to the place of wonder.
– Betty Boomer

[In all likelihood, Betty’s birds were blackbirds, mostly starlings, traveling in huge flocks these late autumn days. Tom Lake.]

12/2 – Millbrook, HRM 82: In late afternoon, the fields on both sides of Oak Summit Road were filled with more than a thousand crows engaged in pre-roost foraging. An hour later, as dusk fell, they were all noisily tucked into their night roost on a hilltop a quarter-mile away.
– Tom Lake

Lock 1 seal rescue by John Carl D’annibale courtesy Albany Times-Union12/3 – Saratoga County, HRM 164: This was Day 132 for the gray seal, with hopefully only one more to go. With the gates closed, at 1:00 p.m. the pumps began to drain the lock. Peering down inside from the lip, we could occasionally see the gray seal, 34 feet below, nosing in and out of portals and swimming around in about three feet of water. With snow and ice not far upriver, the water temperature had fallen to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. As a backdrop on this cold and breezy day, we watched several flocks of goldeneye and scaup make their way down river. Across the way, thousands of crows were massing, all flying this way and that before finding their heading and moving off to the northeast.
– Shannon Fitzgerald, Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

12/4 – Saratoga County, HRM 164: The pumps were still going as dawn came on Day 133 for the gray seal. The wait seemed interminable. The lock is 325 feet long by 45 feet wide, and to lower the water level even three feet was time consuming. By the time the pumping ended in mid-afternoon, about 1.5 million gallons of water had been removed. As the level grew shallower, the seal began swimming pirouettes. Wearing waders and wet suits, Rob DiGiovanni Jr. and his Riverhead Foundation team climbed down into the lock and, with use of steering boards and a thirty-foot-long seine, managed to coral the seal against the south sill. At 3:38 p.m. they finally slid the gray seal into a specially designed cage. After nearly 27 hours, the seal was safely in hand. [VIew a video of the seal rescue by visiting DEC’s YouTube channel.]
gray seal in cage courtesy Tom LakeWith the help of the New York State Canal Corporation crew, the seal was carried to a protected shelter, stabilized, hydrated, checked for injuries (there were none), and prepped for transport to The Riverhead Foundation rehabilitation facility in Riverhead, Long Island. By 6:30 p.m. the truck was on its way to where the seal would be observed with a goal of eventual release. [Photo of gray seal in crate courtesy of Tom Lake.]
– Tom Lake

[The list of Hudson River marine mammals is lengthy and includes seals, dolphins, porpoises, and even a one-time visit from a manatee in summer 2006. Among the seals, we’ve recorded gray, harbor, hooded and harp seals in the estuary. However, the overwhelming majority of seal sightings, perhaps as high as 95%, are harbor seals. With the exception of this gray seal, Almanac records include seal sightings only as far upriver as Troy (river mile 154). Spring is a favorite time for their visits, as the estuary is teeming with migratory herring then. Tom Lake.]

12/4 – Croton Point, HRM 35: For fifteen minutes in perfect morning light, I was able to watch an adult peregrine falcon perched by the road to the nature center.
– Larry Trachtenberg

12/5 – Washington County, HRM 202: I counted 18 species of birds during my survey of the Fort Edward area today. Along Fitzpatrick Lane I spotted a ring-necked pheasant flying across the bottom of a field. The bird went down into thick grass and disappeared. Immediately following in hot pursuit was an immature northern goshawk. Stymied, the raptor flew up and into a tree to watch the area. That did not last long as a male northern harrier arrived to harass the goshawk into leaving. The pheasant survived. In late afternoon, along Fitzpatrick Lane, I came upon two short-eared owls.
– Nancy Kern, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

12/5 – Saratoga County, HRM 182: Among the 31 species of birds I encountered on my survey of Saratoga Lake today were 1,100 Canada geese, 260 common goldeneye – in large rafts at south end of lake – and two common loons.
– Ronald Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

12/5 – Saratoga County, HRM 184: The light was excellent today for my survey of Loughberry Lake, offering great views of ducks with refracted colors making scaup and ring-necked ducks look iridescent. I also counted 750 Canada geese, 850 ring-necked ducks, 170 mixed scaup, and two redhead ducks.
– Ronald Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

12/5 – Beacon, HRM 61: Their voices drowned out all other sounds. Many hundreds of blackbirds had taken over the canopy of several hardwoods and they were all talking at once. Through the scope we could see that most were starlings, but mixed in, often isolated, were red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds. At one point they turned up the volume as we watched an immature bald eagle glide in from the river toward the trees. Pandemonium ensued even though there was little threat from the raptor. The congregation of blackbirds lifted off and quickly moved inland. The eagle took their spot.
– Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

12/6 – Minerva, HRM 284: There is some snow in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, but you can tell that it’s not much. There’s a thin skim of ice on most of the quiet waters in the area, and no snow. Seems very strange for early December.
– Mike Corey

12/6 – Albany County, HRM 142: I spotted four black vultures in North Bethlehem this afternoon, perched in a tree overlooking the Thruway (I-87). Seems a little late for them.
– Larry Alden

12/6 – Columbia County, HRM 134: A sign of the season: This evening I got a report – with photos – of an immature snowy owl at the Lebanon Valley Speedway.
– Will Raup

12/6 – Riverhead, Long Island: The gray seal rescued from Lock One on the Hudson River/Champlain Canal in Saratoga County two days ago was recovering at The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation facility in Riverhead, Long Island. The seal weighs 150 pounds (68.3 kilograms) and carries a yellow tag (979) on its left rear flipper. This was not his first visit to the facility. We will save that story for another day. So far he is being rather fickle with feeding, nibbling and nudging squid and frozen herring (high calorie food). There has been no date set for his release, although in the opinion of the biologists, the sooner the better.
– Tom Lake


Friday, January 8
37th annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey for the Hudson River watershed. We would like to know if you come upon either bald eagles or golden eagles. Details are always important, such as location, adult or immature plumage, behavior, and social interactions. Please email your stories to Tom Lake. The bad-weather date will be Saturday, January 9.

Saturday, January 23: 3:00 p.m.
Hudson Valley Bald Eagles: One of our greatest ecological recoveries, presented by Tom Lake, NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program naturalist, at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland [Albany County]. Sponsored by Audubon Society of the Capital Region. For information email: .


The Hudson is measured north from Hudson River Mile 0 at the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan. The George Washington Bridge is at HRM 12, the Tappan Zee 28, Bear Mountain 47, Beacon-Newburgh 62, Mid-Hudson 75, Kingston-Rhinecliff 95, Rip Van Winkle 114, and the Federal Dam at Troy, the head of tidewater, at 153. The tidal section of the Hudson constitutes a bit less than half the total distance – 315 miles – from Lake Tear of the Clouds to the Battery. Entries from points east and west in the watershed reference the corresponding river mile on the mainstem.


The Hudson River Almanac is compiled and edited by Tom Lake and emailed weekly by DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program. Share your observations by e-mailing them to

To subscribe to the Almanac (or to unsubscribe), go to DEC’s Email Lists page, enter your email address, and click on “Submit.” Fill in and submit the requested information on the “New Subscriber” page. This will take you to “Quick Subscriptions”. Scroll down; under the heading “Natural Areas and Wildlife” is the section “Lakes and Rivers” with a listing for the Hudson River Almanac. Click on the check box to subscribe. While there, you may wish to subscribe to RiverNet, which covers projects, events and actions related to the Hudson and its watershed, or to other DEC newsletters and information feeds.

The current year’s issues are available at . To view older issues, use the link to the New York State Library’s Hudson River Almanac Archive. If it asks you to login, click on “Guest.” You may then need to reopen the DEC page and click on the Almanac Archive link again to access the Almanac collection in the library’s files.

Discover New York State Conservationist – the award-winning, advertisement-free magazine focusing on New York State’s great outdoors and natural resources. Conservationist features stunning photography, informative articles and around-the-state coverage. For a free, no-obligation issue go to


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s online tide and tidal current predictions are invaluable when planning Hudson River field trips.

For real-time information on Hudson River tides, weather and water conditions from eight monitoring stations, visit the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System website.

Visit the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hudson River Salt Front website for historical information on the salt front’s movements in the estuary.

Information about the Hudson River Estuary Program is available on DEC’s website at .

Smartphone app available for New York outdoor enthusiasts!
DEC, in partnership with ParksByNature Network®, is proud to announce the launch of the New York Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife App for iPhone and Android. This FREE, cutting-edge mobile app gives both novice and seasoned outdoorsmen and women essential information in the palm of their hands. Powered by Pocket Ranger® technology, this official app for DEC will provide up-to-date information on fishing, hunting and wildlife watching and serve as an interactive outdoor app using today’s leading mobile devices. Using the app’s advanced GPS features, users will be able identify and locate New York’s many hunting, fishing and wildlife watching sites. They will also gain immediate access to species profiles, rules and regulations, and important permits and licensing details.

NY Open for Hunting and Fishing Initiative
Governor Cuomo’s NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative is an effort to improve recreational opportunities for sportsmen and women and to boost tourism activities throughout the state. This initiative includes streamlining fishing and hunting licenses, reducing license fees, improving access for fishing and increasing hunting opportunities in New York State.
In support of this initiative, this year’s budget includes $6 million in NY Works funding to support creating 50 new land and water access projects to connect hunters, anglers, bird watchers and others who enjoy the outdoors to more than 380,000 acres of existing state and easement lands that have gone largely untapped until now. These 50 new access projects include building new boat launches, installing new hunting blinds and building new trails and parking areas. In addition, the 2014-15 budget includes $4 million to repair the state’s fish hatcheries; and renews and allows expanded use of crossbows for hunting in New York State.
This year’s budget also reduces short-term fishing licenses fees; increases the number of authorized statewide free fishing days to eight from two; authorizes DEC to offer 10 days of promotional prices for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses; and authorizes free Adventure Plates for new lifetime license holders, discounted Adventure Plates for existing lifetime license holders and regular fee Adventure Plates for annual license holders.

Copies of past issues of the Hudson River Almanac, Volumes II-VIII, are available for purchase from the publisher, Purple Mountain Press, (800) 325-2665, or email .

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