It was a steamy week. Air temperatures rose over 90 degrees Fahrenheit on four of the week’s seven days. With no rain for the past thirteen days, salinity in the Hudson Highlands waivered at around four to five parts-per-thousand [ppt]; seawater is 32-35 ppt. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hudson River Salt Front website, the salt front reached HRM 73 during the week.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
9/1 - Tappan Zee, HRM 26: An intrepid (and lucky) Hudson River Fisheries Unit research team captured an elusive young-of-year [YOY] cobia (Rachycentron canadum) during their annual juvenile striped bass beach seine project. The young cobia, 100 millimeters [mm] long, endured its tenure in DEC custody with grace, making gentle circles in a white plastic bucket with languid fluidity. It tolerated rapid-fire smart-phone photography and excited cries of “it’s a remora!” before being released back into the brackish water from whence it came.
- 1815: A 31-inch specimen was reported from New York Bay by Samuel Mitchill. He wrote that it was delicious.
- 1872: A specimen from New York Bay, now a skeleton in the NYS Museum Collection.
- 1876: A 95 mm specimen was collected in a minnow seine in Croton Bay.
The 1876 record was the last documented for cobia in the estuary, a lapse of 139 years. That is not to say that they have not been around on occasion; we simply have not documented one. See Fisher, A.K. (1891). Notes on the Occurrence of a Young Crab-eater (Elacate canada), from the Lower Hudson Valley, New York. Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum (1890) 13 (811): 195. Tom Lake.]
NATURAL HISTORY NOTES
9/1 - Rhinecliff, HRM 89: I was thrilled to see two little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) flying over the water at the Rhinecliff Dock this evening at dusk. These were the first bats I had seen this year.
9/1 - Staatsburg, HRM 86: While opening a sliding glass door this evening, my husband, Ed, was bitten on his foot by something he could not see in the dark. His assailant disappeared. The bite mark was two punctures on top and three on the bottom. Our first thought was that it had been a bat - not a happy thought. Later we spotted the culprit: It was a snake, but it disappeared quickly and we didn't see it again for two uneasy days. Then we spotted it again, stretched atop his desk. He caught the snake in a pillow case and tossed it outside unharmed. The snake was more than two feet long and three-quarters of an inch in diameter.
9/1 - Beacon, HRM 61: “Dead blue crabs on the beach!” Phone calls and e-mails have been coming in from concerned beachcombers. In both instances I asked if the “dead crab” smelled bad, or if they had opened the carapace (shell) to see what was inside. I could sense the shudder on the line. No, they had not. Once on the beach, we found seven blue crab moults, not dead crabs, but empty exoskeletons. Most of the moults were five inches wide, meaning that the new crab, now out there in river, was at least a half-inch to an inch larger - they had graduated to “number one Jimmies” (see 8/16 Beacon for blue crab sizes). As we were leaving, we counted four monarchs drifting down river, tacking against a warm southerly breeze. [Photo of children holding blue crab moult courtesy of Tom Lake.] - Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson[Blue crabs, as crustaceans, have an exoskeleton that they must shed periodically in order to grow. A shed exoskeleton, or moult, is an exact replica of the crab except that when you open the carapace, you see that no one is home. The “new” crab is now out in the shallows as a softshell crab, noticeably larger, waiting for its new shell to harden, a process that can take up to 24 hours depending on water temperature. Tom Lake.]
9/1 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a surprisingly active day at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today with a high presence of osprey (20). In mid-afternoon, a kettle of eight osprey traveled directly over the watch heading west. Non-raptor observations included two ruby-throated hummingbirds and a flock of cedar waxwings.
9/2 - George's Island, HRM 39: In a watershed filled with fish, eagles, and other wildlife, perhaps we should consider the lowly grasshopper. I was kayaking on the river in late afternoon when I discovered a grasshopper struggling in the water, maybe blown there by the wind. I scooped it up and after some exploring, it settled down on the prow of my kayak, striking the pose of a figurehead, and stayed there for the duration of my paddle. When I turned back and was close enough to land, it seemed to recognize its opportunity and flew toward the shore, landing with a splat in the shallows and then scrambling out onto a rock, no worse for wear.
9/2 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was a slower day today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. Still, we counted seven osprey and six broad-winged hawks. In late morning a sharp-shinned hawk was spotted to the north, traveling southwest. In early afternoon, an immature red-tailed hawk first seen to the east flew directly over the watch traveling west south-west. Non-raptor observations included two ruby-throated hummingbirds, two common ravens, a monarch butterfly, and a praying mantis.
9/3 - Kowawese, HRM 59: The air (91 degrees F) and the water (83) were absolutely still, shimmering and simmering in the summer heat. A fifteen-foot-wide swath of duckweed extended out from the beach like a green blanket on the water. We snorkeled underneath in the shallows and with excellent visibility (for the estuary), we watched small schools of YOY river herring quartering the current, clearly visible one moment, then dissolving away as they turned 45 degrees. Later we hauled our seine and found a mix of alewives (60-72 mm) and blueback herring 62-68 mm), as well as striped bass (63-67 mm).
9/3 - Bedford, HRM 35: The steady flow of osprey (8) continued today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. A juvenile red-shouldered hawk was spotted to the east, moving southwest. Non-raptor observations included a ruby-throated hummingbird.
9/4 - Columbia County, HRM 121-120: Our group of fourteen enthusiastic canoeists traveled up Stockport Creek and then ventured out to the island at Middle Ground for further exploration. We did some seining and found YOY striped bass, banded killifish, and river herring. It is interesting to note that we also found Asiatic dayflowers on the island. This lovely non-native plant is listed in the Atlas of New York State Flora as being absent in this area (I have found Asiatic dayflowers across the river on the Greene County side). Maybe we'll paddle back and collect some to submit as a vouchered specimen.
9/4 - Crugers, HRM 39: Since we had seen it every day recently, we were disappointed that there was no sign of the great blue heron at Ogilvie’s Pond today. What a surprise to see it on the grass alongside the road down the corner from our house, walking next to a metal fence around a small private pond. We watched for a half hour as it tried unsuccessfully to get into the pond. It kept trying to squeeze through the metal posts on the fence but could only get its beak and neck through. It walked back and forth, trying to get to the pond at different parts of the fence. Just when we thought it would give up and go elsewhere, it finally made its way past the fence to the edge of the pond. We wondered why it didn’t just fly over the fence instead of going through all that trouble.
9/4 - Bedford, HRM 35: It was an extremely good day for falcons, especially American kestrels (11), at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. One kestrel caught a dragonfly out of the air and proceeded to eat it mid-flight. We also had our first merlin and peregrine falcon of the season. Eight of the thirteen osprey we counted passed in a five-minute period in mid-afternoon. Non-raptor observations included four ruby-throated hummingbirds, 50 double-crested cormorants, two common ravens, two common nighthawks, quite a few chimney swifts, and one monarch. [Photo of American kestrel courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral.] - Charlie Plimpton, Christina Lupoli
9/4 - Ossining, HRM 33: I was on my deck at dusk, look skyward hoping for some nighthawks, and counted four (first-of-season for me). There were also more than 100 chimney swifts moving through, 80 common grackles (possibly going to roost), one osprey, and a Cooper’s hawk.
9/5 - Saratoga County, HRM 165-164: Two days of seal searching, checking out likely haul-out spots with binoculars and spotting scope, produced no sightings. It had been 43 days since Sean Brennan, a lock operator at Lock One on the Hudson-Champlain Canal (Hudson River), first spotted the seal in the river below Lock One. Sean remembered it well since it was also his birthday. Sean said that the seal sported a yellow tag on its left hind flipper, and the head and coloration was that of a harbor seal.
9/5 - Greene County, HRM 134: There was a very interesting Empidonax flycatcher at the Coxsackie Creek Grasslands Preserve, one that repeatedly flicked its tail, more like a kinglet than a phoebe. That's a characteristic of some western “Empid” species. The bird was in the dogwood shrubbery off Garland Road. I took some marginal quality photos which may (more likely not) help identify the bird by wing formula. For now, it will go down as “Empidonax sp.”
9/5 - Four Mile Point, HRM 121: This evening as darkness was taking over, I watched a common nighthawk and a flock of twenty Bonaparte’s gulls fly down the Hudson River. Other birds in the vicinity included two bald eagles, two belted kingfishers, and two wood ducks.
9/5 - Newburgh, HRM 61: The bright sunny day at the Stewart State Forest brought the out the butterflies to nectar on a sea of goldenrod in a two-acre meadow. I counted a dozen monarch butterflies along with some great-spangled fritillaries and cabbage whites. There were milkweed plants around the edge of the field but I didn’t find any monarch chrysalids. This was the most monarchs I had seen all year.
9/5 - Beacon, HRM 61: The lack of rain and the incessant sunlight had the river warmed to 82 degrees F and the salinity nearing 4.0 ppt. A stiff southwest breeze had stirred up the inshore shallows, greatly reducing visibility. However, it was still fun to hover over the bottom and watch the small schools of YOY river herring, only a few inches from our face masks, swaying to-and-fro in time with the gentle swells and soft current.
9/5 - Peekskill, HRM 43: Common carp, my targeted species, have been very slow recently. Today I caught and released just one, weighing two pounds. Among the other fish caught and released were a white perch and four channel catfish that ranged from two to four pounds each.
9/6 - Valatie, HRM 129: The whirligig beetles in Kinderhook Creek were “schooling,” much like fish do. Most of us see them skittering on the surface of the water, going every which way, kind of like bumper cars. But I had never seen the “schooling” behavior before, or what some refer to as an “aggregation” of whirligigs. I estimated a thousand of them tightly were packed in an assemblage about the size of an extra-large pizza. They seemed to be carefully placed against one another as though an artist used mosaic tiles or small beads to form a pattern. Their bronzy metallic colors were ignited by the sunlight, and I could actually hear a clicking sound as their bodies came together in this surface swarm.
9/6 - Red Hook, HRM 98: Matthew Rymkiewicz came upon a buff-breasted sandpiper at the Rockefeller Lane soccer fields today. It was a fairly cooperative bird - loose dogs, walkers, birders, photographers did not seem to faze it. It possibly had an injured wing but was seen flying short distances. [Photo of buff-breasted sandpiper courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral.] - Deborah Tracy-Kral[This is only the third record for Dutchess County, although there have been a few small flocks of them on Long Island over the past few weeks. They are regularly found in fall on the sod farms in the Black Dirt Region of Orange County. Barbara Butler, Stan DeOrsey.]
9/6 - Kowawese, HRM 59: More than two dozen of us had gathered on the beach for our program contribution to the Sixteenth Annual Hudson River Valley Ramble. Everyone got wet in the warm (82 degrees F) shallows. Our catch reflected the brackish water (3.5 ppt, 10% of ocean salinity). The marine fishes included YOY “snapper” bluefish (95-120 mm) and Atlantic silversides (78-90 mm), as well as a mix of striped bass (63-125 mm). For the first time we had all three YOY “river herring” in the net: American shad (81-89 mm), alewives (61-80 mm), and blueback herring (56-67 mm). No fewer than seven big blue crabs made careless searching of the net hazardous duty.
9/6 - Bedford, HRM 35: Seven American kestrels was the high count today at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, as well as five sharp-shinned hawks and four osprey. Non-raptor observations included six ruby-throated hummingbirds, two common ravens, and lots of chimney swifts.
9/7 - Saratoga County, HRM 166-154: There have been no seal sightings for more than a week now. However, this seems to be the pattern. I have also noticed that the seal is not a fan of boat traffic, of which there was a ton this weekend. I regularly check with both Locks One and Two, as well as the Federal Lock at Troy. No one at any of the three locks, or boaters that have been quizzed, have seen anything recently. Every time this happens, I think the seal has started back south toward the estuary, but then it’s popped up again and surprised me. When I last saw the seal it looked very content, eating fish right in front of me!
9/7 - Newburgh, HRM 61: The air temperature reached 95 degrees F today, tying the record high for the date.
9/7 - Beacon, HRM 61: It was so hot today (95 degrees F) that diving underwater (84 F) was barely a remedy. We watched a slow parade of monarch butterflies cross the beach, west-to-east, generally making their way southward by quartering a strong southwest breeze. We saw no river herring through our face masks today, but the brilliant lateral silver stripes on the Atlantic silversides flashed as they moved in the diffused underwater sunlight. Salinity was 4.0 ppt.
SUMMER/FALL 2015 NATURAL HISTORY PROGRAMS
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.
TO CONTRIBUTE YOUR OBSERVATIONS OR TO SUBSCRIBE
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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 information on the salt front’s movements in the estuary.
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