Hudson River Almanac 1/11/2020 – 1/17/2020

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Hudson River Almanac
January 11 - January 17, 2020

A Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program
Compiled by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist


This week featured record high air temperatures throughout the watershed. It was tempting to call it a “January thaw” except that it was not preceded by typical winter freezing. We also compiled the results of the second day of our two-day Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census, a time when we take stock of our bald eagles, both residents and wintering birds from the north and east. For some, the most important aspect of the week was the earlier arrival of the sun, albeit only a minute, but it promised brighter days ahead.

Highlight of the Week

Summer Tanager1/15 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: I first spotted a seemingly out-of-place songbird on our feeders this morning in company with black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves, Carolina wrens, white-throated sparrows, house sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, white-breasted nuthatches, northern cardinals, house finches, and American goldfinches. My first thought was “scarlet tanager.” We took photos and sent them to other birders, and after much discussion, it was decided that the bird was a female summer tanager (Piranga rubra), a rare visitor anytime to Dutchess County and particularly in winter. [Note: the summer tanager was still present on the morning of 1/22.] (Photo of summer tanager courtesy of Stephen Fischer)
- Melissa Fischer, Stephen Fischer (R.T. Waterman Bird Club)

[There are only three previous records (now four) of a summer tanager for Dutchess County: a female on May 20, 1962, a male on May 14, 1988, and another male on May 10, 2008. Although each sighting was by one or two people, the most recent two were accepted by the New York State Avian Records Committee. None were photographed, but spring males are very distinctive. There were also unconfirmed records from the late 1880s and 1890s.

Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds (1980) depicts the summer tanager’s breeding range from the U.S. Gulf Coast north to southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. However, since the 1940s, summer tanagers have been very slowly expanding north. The first breeding record for New York State was 1990 on Long Island, but the second was not until 2002, again on Long Island. The summer tanager winters from Mexico down into South America but is also common in the southern U.S. in winter. Stan Deorsey]

Natural History Entries

1/11 – Hudson Valley: In the monochrome midst of winter’s first light, the sun rose one minute earlier today (7:19) for the first time since June 18. How best to spend our extra minute? We decided to watch the mated pair of eagles applying upgrades to their nest (NY459) high over Wappinger Creek tidewater.
- Tom Lake, B.J. Jackson

1/11 – Newcomb, HRM 302: The air temperature reached 54 degrees Fahrenheit (F) today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/11 – Albany, HRM 145: The air temperature reached 67 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

Blue crab1/11 – Coeymans, HRM 133.5: I found a dead, adult blue crab on the river bank today in Coeymans. Another observer told me he saw two live blue crabs scurrying away. (Photo of blue crab courtesy of Richard Guthrie)
- Richard Guthrie

[Literature would say that blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) should not be out and about with winter water temperatures in the 30s. Or even upriver for that matter – downriver brackish water temperatures are more comfortable for blue crabs as they do not drop as far as freshwater. Our watershed is on the fringe of their northern range. They try to hang on each winter, but there is much mortality from grinding ice. Tom Lake]

1/11 – Hudson River Watershed: This was Day Two of the forty-second annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census for the Hudson River watershed. (January 10 was a Day One.)

Acquiring meaningful data from the annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census has always been at the whims of the weather, particularly ice-cover. The survey is conducted each year at roughly the same time (early January) for the sake of consistency (data comparison). However, the number of eagles, either an abundance or scarcity, often does not accurately reflect the number of wintering eagles that are here or will be here in the wake of the next serious blast of winter weather. Collected data are sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Brooklyn, New York City.
- Tom Lake

1/11 – Columbia County, HRM 128: What an absolutely spectacular day it was in pursuit of eagles! I did not have to go far; all sightings were within a one-mile radius. I ended my search yesterday, Day One of the eagle census, on a hill with two immatures gliding westward, close together, only 60-feet off the ground over an open field.

I began early today and quickly spotted an immature bald eagle soaring in a spiral 200-feet above a pond, drifting southwest to northeast. A second immature eagle joined the first, and they soared close together. The second immature had some lighter-colored feathers (almost white) on its back. The bald eagles disturbed a flock of crows near the pond and that led to much harassing and chasing until the two eagles flew out of sight.

A half-hour later, the wind became gusty and the two immatures, now joined by an adult, were back "dancing" on wet, broken ice on the pond. The immatures were soaking wet and seemed to be scrapping over a fish. The adult left to join a second adult to soar 80-feet over the pond. This was a great spectacle: four eagles in view at once!

As dusk approached, the sky darkened. I aimed my spotting scope at the pond and watched as at least five bald eagles (three adults, two immatures and possibly more ...) wrapped up their busy day. At last light, the two immatures were still splashing around on ice islands; one caught a fish and the other grabbed it away. In a grand finale to the day, a third adult appeared, swooped in on the immatures, and they all rose into the air, eventually joined by the other two adults. As the light faded, all five birds headed eastward into the night.
- Kathryn Conway

[From Kathryn’s description, one of the immatures sounded like a third-year eagle (they mature into their white head and tail at age four). It is possible that the two immatures were heading toward establishing a relationship, something late three-year-old’s frequently do. Tom Lake]

Common raven1/11 – Saugerties, HRM 102: We held our 15th annual Esopus Bend Nature Preserve Winter Bird Count today under very spring-like conditions. One field party surveyed the 160-acre preserve in a 12.5- hour effort that included 2.5 hours of nocturnal “owling.” They recorded a total of 45 species and 596 individual birds.

This year’s count produced three more species and a scant thirteen more individuals compared to last year’s tally. Our ten-year average is 37 species/505 individuals, and our historical average is 36 species/544 individuals. A single common grackle flyover and two barred owls were new additions to the count composite, advancing our historical cumulative to 70 species and contributing to a new record high total count, surpassing last year’s 42 species.

A conspiracy of five common ravens flew over at once, setting a new record high for a species that had eluded us on this survey for 13 years, until last year’s record two. Consistent with this winter’s regional Christmas Bird Counts, white-throated sparrows were encountered in record high numbers with a total of 76 surpassing our previous high counts of 68 in 2006 and 59 last year, more than double our historical average of 36 per year. A large flock of house finches, foraging with American goldfinches in the tops of deciduous trees, combined with a few additional stragglers for a new record high 29, eclipsing 22 in 2014 and 21 last year, more than three times our historical average of 8.4 per year. Two northern mockingbirds constituted a new record high for the species and two bald eagles, one adult and one first-year immature, soared over the preserve.

[“A conspiracy of five common ravens ...” Conspiracy is a collective noun for a group or flight of ravens. Tom Lake]

Black-capped chickadees were found in record low numbers (24) compared to a previous low of 42 last year and an average of 79 per year, continuing a multi-year winter decline consistent with local Christmas Bird Count results. Hermit thrush was not detected in the preserve for the first time in the 15 years we have conducted this count (their 15-year average is 6.5 per year). Northern cardinals were also encountered in record low numbers (12) compared to an average of 22.2 per year, and a small group of only three American tree sparrows, loyal to a dense stand of Phragmites, was consistent with their region-wide scarcity this winter.

The highlight of the count came during the final minutes of waning daylight. In an attempt to document barred owl, Alan Beebe and I visited a section of the preserve where a pair had successfully bred over the past several seasons. A large dark bird the size of a turkey flew out of the top of a tall deciduous tree, but the light was too dim to make an identification. Wild turkeys will respond to the call of a barred owl, so we imitated an owl vocalization, immediately eliciting a gobble response from our only wild turkey for the day while simultaneously attracting a barred owl that flew in and silently perched directly overhead. Then, a second barred owl called, and the overhead owl responded by flying directly toward the second bird, where they exchanged a classic series of loud barks and hoots!

Thanks to Marilyn Abend, Alan Beebe, Eileen Cunningham, Nick Martin, Judy Mletzko, and Beth Safford for assisting with this year’s count. (Photo of common raven courtesy of Jackie Wedell)
- Steve M. Chorvas

1/11 – Ulster County, HRM 87-85: Reflecting back on yesterday, the first day of our state-wide Bald Eagle Census, across three hours of searching, I encountered eleven bald eagles, four adults and seven immatures, from Rifton on the Wallkill to Esopus Meadows on the Hudson.
- Jim Yates

Red-tailed hawk1/11 – Millbrook, HRM 82: We spotted two adult bald eagles enjoying thermals this morning, their white head and tails clearly visible as they were not too far aloft. A red-tailed hawk soared just above the pair, and within minutes, a second red-tail took flight from a nearby tree. (Photo of red-tailed hawk courtesy of Ben Hulsey)
- Linda VanDemark

[The bald eagle/red-tailed hawk competition for air space is a common winter-into-spring phenomenon. Red-tailed hawks are suspicious of eagle intrusions into areas near their nests. Being smaller and more agile, red-tailed hawks frequently run sorties around eagles to harass them to leave. Tom Lake]

1/11 – New Hamburg, HRM 67.5 One of the adults from bald eagle nest NY459 has made our 1.3 square acre Rabbit Island, overlooking the Hudson River, a favorite perching spot. Yesterday, the eagle landed on its favorite limb in a red oak, with a large, still struggling channel catfish in its talons. The eagle proceeded to dine on it and then dropped the remnants into the river before flying off again. We are hoping the adults from NY459 will consider Rabbit Island a second home.
- David Cullen

1/11 – Ossining, HRM 33: I read about the eagle census in the Almanac and was delighted to actually see one in midday on the drive down to attend a "Birds of Prey" presentation at Teatown Reservation. The adult bald eagle circled in tight spirals overhead, no more than 50-feet above the highway.
- Laura Facchin

1/11 – Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 69 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/11 – Newark, NJ: The air temperature reached 70 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/11 – Hudson River Watershed: Our unscientific, and certainly limited, survey of bald eagles in the Hudson River watershed over the two census days, January 10-11, resulted in a sighting of 90 bald eagles, 55 adults and 35 immatures, as well as one adult and one immature golden eagle.

We would like to thank all those who contributed their eagle sightings during the Mid-Winter Survey, in particular Barbara Butler, Kathryn Conway, David Cullen, Annie Curto, Laura Facchin, Bob Gramling, Constance Hasko, Barbara Heinzen, B.J. Jackson, Deborah Tracy-Kral, Dana Layton, Erin Lefkowitz Debbie Lephew, Dave Lindemann, Tom McDowell, Jay Melnick, Maija Liisa Niemistö, Mauricette Potthast, Bob Rightmyer, Linda Rohleder, Linda VanDemark, John Wadlin.
- Tom Lake

1/12 – Albany, HRM 145: The air temperature reached 67 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

White perch1/12 – Beacon, HRM 61: With spring-like air temperatures (68 degrees F), we were helpless to resist the urge to haul a seine. A strong and warm south wind had breakers piling on the beach. Our zero expectations were barely exceeded by a single fish, a yearling white perch (147 mm). Two sunny days had the shallows warmed to 41 degrees F. (Photo of white perch courtesy of NJ DEP)
- Tom Lake. A. Danforth

[Note: one inch = 25.4 millimeters (mm)]

1/12 – Manhattan, HRM 5: The air temperature reached 68 degrees F today, a record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

1/13 – Selkirk, HR 135: I was heading south on the New York State Thruway this morning and noted a very large bird cruising around over the highway. When I got closer, I saw that it was an adult bald eagle. I didn't see a carcass nearby, but my guess was that was the reason this raptor, often a scavenger, was there.
- Mike Corey

1/13 – Manhattan, New York City: It's been very blustery on Randall's Island, so I have not left the office much, although I did get to see a great blue heron chase off a double-crested cormorant (arch competitors) this morning. The cormorant had to waddle away because the tide was so low at the Little Hell Gate Salt Marsh, that the bird did not have a deep enough water-runway to accommodate its escape. I also saw a belted kingfisher perched up high and an immature yellow-crowned night heron hanging around.
- Jackie Wu

[Randall’s Island is situated at the intersection of the Harlem River and the East River, just offshore of Manhattan Island and is managed by the Randall's Island Park Alliance. Tom Lake]

*** Fish of the Week ***

Western mosquitofish1/14 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 54 is the Western Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinus), number 120 (of 230) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail - trlake7.

The western mosquitofish is a small (36-59 mm), nonnative species in the Hudson River watershed where they are the only member of their family (Poeciliidae). They look like killifish and silverside and are somewhat related (same order, Antheriniformes). Western mosquito is native to the American southwest, the mid-west from Mexico to Wisconsin, and the southeast – their type site is in the San Antonio River watershed, Texas. As with the killifishes, mosquito larvae form a significant portion of their diet, thus their common name, and are frequently used in warm climates for mosquito control.

Western mosquitofish have a reproducing population on Long Island where they were introduced. The first, and likely only record of them in the Hudson Valley, was from a 1993 collection, and subsequent collections at the same location, made by Bob Schmidt in Sparkill Creek, Rockland County. (Photo of Western mosquitofish courtesy of Robert McDowell)
- Tom Lake

Bald eagle nest1/15 – Town of Poughkeepsie: Bald eagle nest NY372 has had a difficult couple of years trying to hatch eggs and fledge nestlings. Thus far this winter, both adults have been on station, effecting repairs to the nest and looking very much like they are getting ready for another go. (Photo of bald eagle nest courtesy of Bob Rightmyer)
- Sheila Bogart, Bob Rightmyer

1/16 – Sullivan County: I photographed an adult bald eagle at Rio Reservoir, Forestburg, in Sullivan County today that carried a blue NYSDEC band (R25) on its right leg and a silver United States Geological Survey (USGS) band on its left leg.

Banded bald eagleData received from USGS on this eagle revealed that it was a female, banded in February 2008 near Narrowsburg, Sullivan County. The eagle had been free for 4,357 days and was encountered (photographed) just 24 miles from where it had been banded. While this suggests much fidelity for that area in Sullivan County, there is little doubt that the eagle had traveled far and wide, season to season. (Photo of banded bald eagle courtesy of Deborah Tracy Kral)

[On occasion, the Almanac will note a wildlife occurrence that, while not directly in the watershed, is close enough and rare enough to mention. The resilience and longevity of this banded bald eagle qualified. Tom Lake]

Mud crab1/16 – Manhattan, RM 1: It was another frigid sampling session as we checked The River Project's collection gear on the lighthouse tender Lilac moored at Pier 25 in Hudson River Park. The winter residents included isopods, amphipods, shore shrimp, and a mud crab or two as we did our best to keep our hands from going numb. (Photo of mud crab courtesy of Ashawna Abbott)
-Siddhartha Hayes, Toland Kister, Carrie Roble, Olivia Radick

1/17 – Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: It was barely first light and very little of it at that. The 1.6-mile tidewater reach of Wappinger Creek was shrouded in fog: warm air/cold water. The tide was up and two adult eagles, white heads glowing in the diffused light, and one immature eagle, perched in sycamores. They were biding their time for the tide to ebb and the shallows to give up images of their fish.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

Red-headed/Red-bellied woodpecker courtesy of Jim Yates

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 trlake7.

To subscribe to the Almanac (or to unsubscribe), use the links on DEC's Hudson River Almanac or DEC Delivers web pages.

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. Visit the Conservationist webpage for more information.

Useful Links

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 sixteen monitoring stations, visit the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System website.

DEC's Smartphone app for iPhone and Android is now available at: New York Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife App.

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