Hudson River Almanac 12/7/15 – 12/13/15

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river otter feeding on yellow perch - courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral

Hudson River Almanac
December 7 – 13, 2015
Compiled by Tom Lake, Hudson River Estuary Program Consulting Naturalist


It was a week of record and near record air temperatures in the Hudson River watershed. Our gray seal, rescued from the Hudson River in Saratoga County on December 4, continued its amazing story of recovery and adventure.


young golden eagle in flight12/9 – Coeymans, HRM 133.5: I stopped along the side of the road at the north end of Coeymans Hollow to look for field birds in the corn stubble. A large, dark bird came into view from the north, flapping very long wings as if it had just taken flight. I expected it to be a turkey vulture but binoculars revealed it to be a golden eagle. I watched it soar over the area for several minutes until it glided off to the north. The base of the tail was white, and the terminal end was dark. The head was noticeably small compared to the tail, and appeared to be a lighter brown color compared to the rest of the body. It soared with its wings held above horizontal, and the primaries were spread and curled upwards at the tips. After the eagle left the area, two northern harriers flew through the same airspace, interacting with each other in short mock dives. It was a very good day in the field. [Photo of golden eagle by Donna Dewhurst, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.]
– Tom Williams, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club


12/7 – Riverhead, Long Island: The Riverhead Foundation discovered that our gray seal, bearing a yellow tag number 979 when rescued from the Hudson River in Saratoga County, had been to their facility once before. On April 9, 2015, a beach walker at Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island came upon an injured gray seal stuck inside the rocks of a jetty. He had a broken jaw and an injured rear flipper. The Riverhead Foundation nursed him back to health, force-feeding him at first, and by June 15 he was ready to be released. Their staff named him “Professor X”; at the time, the Foundation was naming their marine mammal releases after comic book characters – Professor X was the creator and leader of Marvel Comics’ “X-Men.” He was estimated to be about 18 months old, probably born in January, 2014, at Sable Island, Nova Scotia – about 800 miles north of .Long island. He weighed 75.5 pounds and was 3 feet, 6 inches long when released at Ponquogue Bridge, Hampton Bays, Long Island.
– Tom Lake

[This gray seal, rescued from the Hudson River in Saratoga County (see December 4), was only the second of its species recorded from the Hudson River. The previous visit occurred in 2011, from July 19 to September 16, when a gray seal took up residence at the Rogers Point Boat Club in Hyde Park (HRM 82). Over those 60 days, the seal dined regularly on striped bass, catfish, and even one shortnose sturgeon, an endangered species. It endured the effects of tropical storms Irene and Lee, when the river turned an opaque tomato soup-red from sediments washed downstream from the Mohawk River. Then one day the seal simply did not show up, slipping away as silently as it had arrived. We hopefully assumed that it had decided to head south to the sea. Tom Lake.]

12/8 – Ulster County, HRM 88: Jim Yates came upon and was able to photograph an immature red-headed woodpecker dining on and collecting acorns this morning.
– Edward Kaufman

12/8 – Town of Warwick, HRM 41: It was a soft 40 degrees Fahrenheit as we hiked around Liberty Marsh on its 2.75-mile loop trail. While this wildlife refuge is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl, there was no sense of urgency in the air. The time when a blue sky would fill with countless V’s of migrating geese would have to wait for another, more threatening, day. The waterfowl we encountered seemed to be content to laze. We found both greater and lesser scaup, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, common mergansers, black ducks, mallards, and numerous gadwall. A lone northern harrier occasionally lifted up out of the marsh hummocks to teeter for a while before descending, perhaps onto some prey. An adult bald eagle eyeing us from the canopy of a tall hardwood seemed equally at ease.
– Tom Lake, Christopher Letts

[Liberty Marsh’s 335 acres are part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, adjacent to and near the headwaters of the Wallkill River. Tom Lake.]

12/8 – Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I estimated that the count of turkey vultures circling fairly low above downtown Croton-on-Hudson reached 150-175 birds early this morning. There were a lot of “oooohs and aaaahs” from folks going in for coffee at The Black Cow.
– Larry Trachtenberg

12/8 – Riverhead, Long Island: Rescued from the Hudson River, our gray seal was recovering at The Riverhead Foundation on Long Island. However, he was not showing much interest in the squid and herring he was offered and permission was requested from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] to release him into the ocean in the next couple of days.
– Kim Durham

12/9 – Saratoga County, HRM 180: Among the birds I counted on my survey of Galway Lake today were 600 Canada geese, 250 hooded mergansers, 180 mallards, 24 American black ducks, 16 gadwall, 8 lesser scaup, 7 bufflehead, and 4 green-winged teal.
– Ron Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Clulb

12/9 – Millbrook, HRM 82: Hudson Valley hardwoods produced a bountiful mast crop this year, primarily acorns, and gray squirrels have been busy shopping for winter. I watched a half-dozen of them scampering around under two large red oaks, and it seemed like they were very caught up in their task. Out from a treeline came a raptor – flap-flap-glide, flap-flap-glide – a Cooper’s hawk. Without a sound or a shadow warning it deftly grabbed a gray squirrel and flew behind a hedgerow to partake of its meal. In this instance, a careless squirrel’s DNA will not produce careless offspring.
– Tom Lake

12/9 – Riverhead, Long Island: The Riverhead Foundation received permission from NOAA to release our former Hudson River gray seal tomorrow at nearby Hampton Bays.
– Kim Durham

12/10 – Orange County: We came upon some river otters in a beaver pond and they were all chowing down on yellow perch. As we watched, they quickly “vanished”, presumably down into a nearby beaver den. [See banner photo. Location kept vague to protect the river otters.]
– Maha Katnani, Aimee LaBarr

12/10 – Yorktown Heights, HRM 43: The bird feeders at the Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park were visited today by a beautiful juvenile red-tailed hawk. It landed in a large planter, scattering the small birds from the nearby feeders, and then flapped over to the top of a sign closer to the food source. One tufted titmouse remained, hopping around in the azaleas; we watched with bated breath as it shuttled from one side of the shrubs to the other, looking for a way to escape. Finally, the hawk bent its head to scratch and the titmouse made it to a nearby spruce tree. The hawk eventually flew back to the planter and then away, but it spent over half an hour with us, and it was so close to the park office’s front window that it was easy to see all the field marks.
– Susan Butterfass

[Generally songbirds are the prey of accipiters, such as sharp–shinned and Cooper’s hawks, and falcons. Buteos such as red-tailed hawks tend to be too slow and lacking in agility to grab small birds. Tom Lake.]

released gray seal heading for the surf12/10 – Hampton Bays, Long Island: Six days after rescuing the gray seal from the Hudson River in Saratoga County, The Riverhead Foundation was ready to release the seal they had re-named “Charlie” into the Atlantic. He had been fitted with a satellite tag as well as a yellow tag number 150975 on his right rear flipper. The seal weighed 150.3 pounds and was 4 feet 4 inches long. He had doubled his weight and grown ten inches in six months. At 1:56 p.m. we opened the big blue crate and he lumbered down the sloped sandy beach and plunged head-first into the surf. He hung around for ten minutes just outside the breakers, poking his head up to look back at the beach, before diving out of sight. The water was 52 degrees F. [Photo of gray seal heading for the sea courtesy of Tom Lake.]
– Kim Durham, Rob DiGiovanni, Shannon Fitzgerald, Tom Lake

[The Riverhead Foundation is not-for-profit and hopes to have their released marine mammals and sea turtle “adopted” through public donations. They reasoned that a gray seal named “Charlie” would be much more likely to be adopted than one named “Professor X.” Tom Lake.]

12/11 – Colonie, HRM 150: I first noticed an immature red-headed woodpecker on Old Valley Road on November 9. It was usually caching acorns from a large crop that had fallen from many oak trees in that neighborhood. I watched many interactions with blue jays, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, robins, and gray squirrels. I was hopeful that it was setting up shop and that throughout the winter I would be able to watch it molt into adult plumage. However, during Thanksgiving week I no longer saw the bird on my daily visits. Clearly it had either departed or changed its pattern. But this morning, the bird was back in its favorite trees. Unlike before, it was clearly foraging for insects, drilling and excavating in several locations.
– Bruce Dudek, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

12/11 – New Scotland, HRM 142: I had 36 black vultures over New Scotland Avenue today. There were two groups: one of 14 birds and one of 22, likely part of the same kettle as they were only about a mile apart. I had seen a kettle two weeks ago in the same area so perhaps this was the same group. I started seeing black vultures in this area on New Year’s Day 2010.
– Gerry Colborn, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

12/11 – Newport, Rhode Island: After his released on December 10 on Long Island, carrying a satellite tag, Charlie was tracked today to Block Island, Rhode Island, about 70 miles to the northeast.
– Tom Lake

12/12 – Saratoga County, HRM 182: During my survey of Saratoga Lake today, I counted more than 2,200 waterfowl including 1,300 Canada Geese in very large rafts in all parts of the lake. In addition there were 450 mallards, 150 common goldeneye, 120 bufflehead, 120 hooded mergansers, 40 American black ducks, 40 common mergansers, 2 common loons, and a female red-breasted merganser
– Ron Harrower, Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club

12/12 – Beacon, HRM 61: The season for rod and reel fishing received a weather extension (61 degrees F today) so I gave it a try, although I had to wait more than three hours for my first fish. But it was worth it. I caught, weighed, and released two carp the largest of which was 28.5 inches long and weighed 12 pounds, 15 ounces. The second one was only slightly smaller. The largest carp played “possum” on me. I was eating a sandwich when I saw that I had a nibble – I had been having many of them. I finished my sandwich and then decided to check my bait. As I began to reel in, the big fish was on!
– Bill Greene

12/12 – Columbia County, HRM 108: Our survey of Copake Lake today counted three lesser scaup (purple head; females had more white around bill than greater scaup), 40 ruddy ducks, 12 hooded mergansers, 4 bufflehead, an American coot, and one adult bald eagle.
– Ellen Kieweg, Chuck Kieweg

12/12 – Ossining, HRM 33: The air was 65 degrees F today, tying the record for the date, and there was certainly a lethargic feeling in the air. In the river off the Mariandale Conference Center, in a sizable raft of scaup, I picked out five canvasback (four were drakes). Redhead ducks were seen here earlier in the week but I did not see any today.
– Larry Trachtenberg

12/12 – Manhattan, HRM 5: Before our walk through Central Park, we came upon a hermit thrush in the Shakespeare Garden. Later, we found many interesting waterfowl: At the Reservoir we counted more than 50 northern shovelers, no less than 100 ruddy ducks, at least 6 bufflehead, and 3 hooded mergansers, as well as ring-necked ducks.
– Deb Allen

12/12 – Newport, Rhode Island: Our gray seal was tracked today to Newport, Rhode Island, about 100 miles from where he was released just two days ago. Previous notions of seals lingering have to be expanded to include long distance swimming such as this individual has been demonstrating. Hopefully there will be more satellite tracking data to come.
– Tom Lake

12/13 – Fort Edward, HRM 202: We searched all over the Fort Edward grasslands this afternoon, hoping to photograph the previously reported snowy owl. No luck with the owl, but we did encounter large flocks of wild turkeys (about 50 birds) and a short-eared owl. A large flock of snow geese passed over as well.
– Scott Stoner, Denise Hackert-Stoner

12/13 – Saratoga County, HRM 164: Now that we know the date when our gray seal was first released by The Riverhead Foundation on Long Island (June15), we can fill in some of the details of his journey to Lock One on the Hudson River, where he was first sighted on July 25. In the 41 days after his release, it is possible that he fell in with a crowd of harbor seals. He traveled at least 160 miles through the Lower and Upper bays of New York Harbor, and then all the way up the estuary to the Federal Lock at Troy. We assume that he went into the open lock pursuing herring, found himself trapped, and when the lock opened again, he was marooned in the Hudson River above tidewater.
– Tom Lake

12/13 – Dutchess County, HRM 96: I counted ten red-tailed hawks in a thermal above the Stissing Mountain ridge late this morning. There were no signs of golden eagles, bald eagles, or any other raptors.
– Deborah Tracy-Kral

12/13 – Kowawese, HRM 59: Following five days of well above average daytime temperatures, we felt we had to go seining. Ably assisted by two third-grade students, Alexia Christoforidis and Alexander Quinci, we hauled the shallows, stumbled over cobbles, and managed to beach the net. The catch was sparse to my eyes but a virtual bounty to Alexia and Alexander. We had a full range of spottail shiners from young-of-the-year to adults 72-112 millimeters [mm] long, as well as many tessellated darters (66-68 mm). The students recognized very quickly that the darters in their coloring mimicked the bottom of the river where they live. The water temperature was holding at 47 degrees F and with only 0.41 inches of precipitation over the last 23 days, salinity was still measurable at 1.5 parts-per-thousand.
– Tom Lake

Nov-Dec water temps at Poughkeepsie

[This graph, based on data from the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System, compares the last month’s water temperatures at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, to temperatures for the same time period in 2014 and 2013. Water temperature has not fallen as fast this year, and as of 11/13/15 was about 8 degrees F warmer than on that date in the two previous years. Steve Stanne.]

12/13 – New York City, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 67 degrees F today, a record high temperature for the date.
– National Weather Service

12/13 – Manhattan, HRM 5: On our bird walk through Central Park today we came upon 150 ruddy ducks, 87 northern shovelers, 5 bufflehead, 5 hooded mergansers, and 2 double-crested cormorants at the Reservoir. Karen Evans also found a male ring-necked duck on the west side of the Reservoir.
– Deb Allen


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 consulting naturalist, at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland [Albany County]. Sponsored by Audubon Society of the Capital Region (ASCR). 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, visit 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 Almanac 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


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 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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