The seal mystery continued upriver, and summer continued in full force in the estuary. Bluefish terrorized menhaden, and young-of-the-year [YOY] fishes dominated the catches of netters.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
78/14 – Newcomb, HRM 302: The bounty of wildlife foods continued to add up to an amazing fall banquet for our feathered and furry friends (for us as well). Apple tree branches were bent over from the weight of their numerous fruits; choke cherries (Prunus virginiana) were abundant and dripping from the trees; and mountain ash were weighted down with copious amounts of berries. All this food will be great for wildlife, which means that small mammal numbers will escalate in response. Plug your basement holes and buy your live-traps now, you’ll thank me later.
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
8/8 – Moodna Creek, HRM 58: Dry weather had reduced the mighty Moodna to a small trickle, trapping fish in the deeper pools. While fly-fishing, I came across eight large channel catfish, broad heads, long barbels, and deeply forked tails, trapped in one of the deeper pools above tidewater. Each appeared to be two feet long or more. Not far upstream, a double-crested cormorant and a great blue heron worked over another small pool.
[The cormorant-heron was an unusual pairing, reminiscent of badger and coyote hunting cooperatively for ground squirrels out West – one below and one above, keeping prey constantly on the move. Ed McGowan.]
8/8 – Manhattan, HRM 1: Among the many YOY oyster toadfish about 22 millimeters [mm] long that have been taken in The River Project’s sampling gear at Pier 40 in the Hudson River Park, one was orange – bright orange! The literature did little to help us determine if this was a color anomaly, some kind of albino, or something else entirely. [Photo of orange young-of-the-year oyster toadfish courtesy of Tom Lake.]
8/9 – Mechanicville to Waterford, HRM 168-159: In an effort to locate the seal, first seen sixteen days ago (July 25) above tidewater, we visited the location of its most recent sighting, Lock 1 of the Hudson/Champlain Canal (the inland extent of Henry Hudson’s incursion up the river in September 1609). We spoke with Traci Scrom, a Seasonal Lock Operator, who was there for the initial sighting, and had a photo taken (the only one we have), rather blurry, at a distance. A thorough seven-mile search of the river produced no sightings.
[The original observer, Sean Brennan, believes he saw a yellow tag on the seal that would mean it was a Riverhead Foundation rehabilitated and released animal. Tom Lake.]
8/9 – Millbrook, HRM 82: Stiff goldenrod had begun the progression of the field goldenrods. Giant goldenrod and grass-leaved goldenrod (not a true goldenrod) will bloom later in August, and September will bring wrinkleleaf goldenrod and Canada goldenrod, with marsh goldenrod at the damp, downhill edges.
8/9 – Croton Point, HRM 34: Huge numbers of bunker [Atlantic menhaden] and feeding bluefish have been stirring up the river off Teller’s Point. While anchored on the south side of the Point this afternoon, I watched bunker frantically splashing, trying to escape marauding bluefish. More of each species than I’ve seen up here in a long time. Occasionally the chasing blues would launch themselves vertically clear of the water by a foot or two, having come up from underneath the helpless bunker. It was a regular old-fashioned blitz!
[Atlantic menhaden are a species of herring that spawn in salt to brackish water. Adults, also known regionally as bunker, mossbunker or pogies, and their YOY offspring, colloquially called peanut bunker or penny bunker, are found by the millions in the estuary in summer. They provide forage for striped bass, bluefish, osprey, harriers, eagles and seals. Tom Lake.]
8/10 – Mechanicville to Waterford, HRM 168-159: For a second day, we conducted a thorough seven-mile search of the river that again produced no sightings. At Lock 1 of the Hudson/Champlain Canal we spoke with Joe Czyzewski, Station Master. Joe has had the most sightings as the seal “locked through.” His assessment was that the seal was “clever and quick,” adept at making it inside the closing doors of the lock during its operation.
8/10 – Inwood Hill Park, HRM 13.5: On a midday low tide, the inlet of Spuyten Duyvil Creek was mostly a mud flat. Two great egrets were fishing and a cormorant was diving in the shallow open water. A few semipalmated sandpipers were there, as was a sanderling. On the path up through The Clove, clearweed was becoming the main ground cover and jewelweed now had a few flowers. Up on the ridge, Canada goldenrod and rough-leaved sunflower were blooming in sunny spots, as well as purple-node Joe-Pye weed that grows in drier places than other Joe-Pye weed species.
8/11- Hudson/Champlain Canal Lock 1, HRM 164.5: Unfortunately, there has been no word on the seal from anyone – Lock 1 employees, boaters, fisherman – nothing. No one has seen the seal in about a week now. With the recent rains we’ve had, the river was extremely muddy with zero visibility, so I don’t know how well the seal would be able to hunt.
[This has been one of the mysteries of marine mammals in the estuary. Suspended sediments and algae growth in the river, the result of wind, tide, current, and warm water, produce consistently nearly-opaque water except where clear-running tributaries enter or in backwater tide pools. Yet, it would seem that marine mammals, from dolphins to porpoises to seals, even a manatee, have managed to find sustenance in the estuary. Tom Lake.]
8/11 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: I have had four hummingbirds around my three feeders this summer, as many as I’ve ever had. They do go about their “hummer wars,” sparring for territory and who knows what other reasons (for the males, their ego, I presume). However, recently I’ve begun to view their jousting a bit differently: They seem to be conducting “hummer games.” There is much less combat and more chasing, particularly with females and immatures. Frequently they take a break from their headlong rushes into the trees to come and get a drink, often side-by-side. “Hummer games!”
8/12 – Hopewell Junction, HRM 67: This was the end of the eastern bluebird breeding season. We had five broods with nineteen fledglings. It was lots of fun with many memories.
8/12 – Beacon, HRM 61: The river was still a warm 82 degrees Fahrenheit and, after an inch of rain, the salinity had fallen to 2.0 parts per thousand [ppt]. Our seine caught the expected – YOY alewives (53-87 mm) and striped bass 60-62 mm). Our small group also caught two eight-inch-long eels. That gave us the idea to resurrect an activity for the first time since 2008 – the Eel Race. Our eels, named by the young participants, were Eelie and Sicilian (that team leader was fond of Sicilian pizza). After placing each eel in a bucket with water, they were set off and racing. Sicilian broke fast, sprinted to the lead, and won by five eel-lengths. (See below for details on the Eel Race.)
8/13 – Hyde Park, HRM 82: I noticed a male downy woodpecker coming to our hummingbird feeders to get a drink. He came back twice today after the first time I saw him. We have six feeders out that we fill every two days (for the hummingbirds!). He must be real thirsty.
8/13 – Peekskill, HRM 43: I caught and released nine channel catfish today, weighing one to three pounds each, at Peekskill’s Riverside Park. The biggest was a male, slate grey in color, much larger head and stronger jaw structure than the others. Carp started to put on a surface show with their splashing later in the afternoon, but I couldn’t get a bite from them.
8/13- Peekskill, HRM 43.5: The bluefish “blitz” from lower in the estuary had reached the bay at the mouth of Annsville Creek. I watched schools of bunker leap out of the water in a futile effort to survive. I could not clearly see how big the blues were, but their slashing jaws were efficient at any size. This was more than I have seen of blues chasing bunker this far upriver in a long time.
8/13 – Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: At Silver Lake today I saw a black cat-sized shape moving along the rocks on the bank opposite the Croton River. From its posture and the way it almost “slithered” over the rocks, my first thought, and best guess, was that it was a mink.
8/14 – Ulster Park, HRM 87: I stepped out my door this morning and there, on the front lawn, was a handsome mink. Becoming aware of me, it scuttled off into the long grass, leaving no trace of its presence, in typical mink fashion.
8/14 – Norrie Point, HRM 85: A large group of intrepid Student Conservation Association members gathered here for a day of river sampling in preparation for the October 20 Day in the Life of the Hudson River event. The water was a warm 78 degrees F but dissolved oxygen was a healthy 9.0 parts per million. During the day we caught a range of fish in our seine, including smallmouth and largemouth bass; bluegill, redbreast, and pumpkinseed sunfish; a small group of YOY river herring; spottail shiner; banded killifish; and an American eel.
8/14 – Manitou Marsh, HRM 46.5: I was traveling along the Hudson on Amtrak and as I passed by Manitou Marsh, I saw that the westward edge was a dense mix of narrow-leaf cattail and a very pretty, flowering plant. At first I thought the flowers were pink mallows, such as we sometimes see in fields in central New York, but then I realized these were taller. Not sure what they were, but it was a very pretty mix, and quite different from the mono-stands of Phragmites I saw in most of the other emergent marshes.
[Swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), with the immense pink or white flowers, is native and common in the brackish marshes of the Hudson from at least Constitution Island to Piermont. There is some in the Cruger Island South Marsh at Tivoli Bays, probably planted in the 1800s. It is also inland a short ways along the Saw Mill River. Farther south it grows in fresh as well as brackish water. It holds its own among cattails or Phragmites. Apparently some nurseries sell it. Swamp rose mallow is often misidentified as marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis). Marsh mallow is of European origin (supposedly). I don’t know if it’s ever been documented on the Hudson. It, too, is a large plant of brackish and salt marshes but the flower is much smaller. I saw it once on the LI Sound shore of Westchester and it is supposed to occur along the Atlantic Coast. Erik Kiviat, Executive Director, Hudsonia Ltd.]
8/14 – Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: I went up on the Croton Point landfill for night birds and meteor watching. The sunset was lovely and the breezes delicious. Around 9:00 p.m., after a couple of nice bright meteors streaked over, a large “dark thing” whooshed over my head: a great horned owl. I could not hear it, just felt the whooshing of its flight.
8/14 – Manhattan, HRM 1: We caught an adult common spider crab (Libinia emarginata) today, our first of the summer at The River Project’s Pier 40 research site in the Hudson River Park. Its carapace, nicely decorated with ghost anemones (Diadumene leucolena), was only 44 mm wide, but it legs were many times that. Other catches of lower estuary aquatic life included a blue crab, a juvenile winter flounder, a tautog, a juvenile scup (35 mm), and many more juvenile oyster toadfish. Of special note was an Atlantic tomcod that we do not often catch, particularly in August. We released it back into the river so it could keep following whatever cold current brought it here.
8/15 – Kowawese, HRM 59: The fiery sunrise over the north end of Sugarloaf Mountain portended a hot day. It was already 72 degrees F (heading to 92). Our seining effort was part of the fourth annual Great Hudson River Fish Count, sponsored by DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program. The bag of our seine was dominated by YOY fishes: alewives (50-87 mm), striped bass (66-81 mm), white perch (50-78 mm), and tessellated darter (50 mm). Two blue crabs (four-inch carapace width), a six-inch “shoestring” eel, pumpkinseed, and a hogchoker (65 mm) completed our modest catch. The river was 77 degrees F, salinity 2.0 ppt.
[Seines are commonly mentioned in Almanac observations pertaining to fisheries research and education. A seine is a net with a float-line on top, a lead-line on the bottom, and tight meshes in between. The word seine is French, from the Latin sagëna, which means a fishing net designed to hang vertically in the water, the ends of which are drawn together to enclose the fish. Those referenced in the Almanac range in length from 15-85 feet long and are 4-6 feet in depth, with mesh size from quarter-inch to half-inch depending upon application. They are an excellent tool used to sample an area and collect aquatic animals, usually without injuring the catch. Tom Lake.]
8/15 – Little Stony Point, HRM 55: As the sun descended over Storm King Mountain, 30 of us gathered on the beach for the Great Hudson River Fish Count to see if any aquatic life could “survive’ being in the midst of a hundred thrashing swimmers, children splashing, and boaters maneuvering their craft. There was a collective gasp the first time we slid the seine up on the sand: Out spilled more than a hundred small silvery fish, none more than finger-length. After four more hauls we had caught nine species and more than seven hundred fish, most YOY. Highlights included channel catfish (43-77 mm), striped bass (33-82 mm), and alewives (49-89 mm). The most interesting catch was Atlantic silverside (85-98 mm), a sure indicator that there was some salt in the water. It was nice to see ten blue crabs, most market-size (five inches), in the net. The river was 80 degrees F; salinity 2.0 ppt.
[Reflecting back on the scene as we arrived at the beach, there were close to one hundred people in the water, mostly children, swimming and playing. I wondered if any of them knew that they were sharing that spot in the river with hundreds if not thousands of baby catfish, striped bass, and herring, as well as many feisty blue crabs. Tom Lake.]
8/15 – Piermont Pier, HRM 25: Our contribution to the Great Hudson River Fish Count occurred this afternoon with a group of no less than fifty, ranging from toddlers to seniors curious to see what was in the river and help with the count. The overwhelming majority of our catch was Atlantic silversides (272). We also had two species of killifish, including beautiful yellow-bellied male mummichogs and a handful of banded killies. The rest of the fish were YOY white perch and striped bass – several dozen, all about 50 mm long. Our catch also included three species of crab: two juvenile blue crabs, two fingernail-sized mud crabs, and a very tiny Asian shore crab.
[A review of the reports received so far gives a total of 33 species recorded at seventeen Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Count sites ranging from Peebles Island State Park in Waterford, just above tidewater, to Brooklyn Bridge Park on the East River. This is the highest number recorded on any of the four counts to date. Six of these species were new to our count list: lined seahorse and scup (porgy) netted at Brooklyn Bridge Park; green sunfish and black crappie at Peebles Island; a cunner (bergall) caught near the Lower East Side Ecology Center on the East River; and a tautog (blackfish) caught by the River Project at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 in Manhattan. Steve Stanne. Photo of lined seahorse from Brooklyn Bridge Park courtesy of Steve Stanne.]
SUMMER 2015 NATURAL HISTORY PROGRAMS
Sunday, September 6: 11:00 a.m.
Thursday, September 17: 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 20: 2:00 – 5:00 p.m
HUDSON RIVER MILES
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.
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