Hudson River Almanac 1/18/20 – 1/24/20

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Hudson River Almanac
January 18 - January 24, 2020

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


Mid-Winter bird counts, from songbirds to raptors to waterfowl, dominated the week. These annual surveys produce data from which cycles of abundance and scarcity can be considered. And, while pure numbers never tell the entire story, without factoring context, they do give us a notion of prevailing trends.

Highlight of the Week

Gyrfalcon1/22 – Galeville, HRM 74: On a visit to the Shawangunks Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge today, I was able to photograph a juvenile gray-morph gyrfalcon engaging a short-eared owl in an aerial duel. This was a rare duo, made even more so by the presence of the gyrfalcon. (Photo of gyrfalcon courtesy of Jim Yates)
- Jim Yates

[Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) is one of four falcons we see in the Hudson Valley (peregrine, merlin, and kestrel being the others). The gyrfalcon is the largest (nearly raven-size) and most uncommon, seen only in migration. Like the snowy owl, gyrfalcons are Arctic breeders. - Tom Lake]

Natural History Entries

Snow bunting1/18 – Saratoga County, HRM 197: There was still a huge flock of snow buntings, I estimated about 400 birds, between Bacon Hill and Gansevoort. There were also many horned larks. There is a lot of good open-field habitat and dairy farms here with manure spreads to attract wintering field birds. (Photo of snow bunting courtesy of Tim Barksdale)
- Gregg Recer (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

1/18 – Greene County, HRM 133-113: We conducted the Greene County section of the annual New York State Ornithological Association’s January Waterfowl Count, covering the stretch from Coeymans Landing in southern Albany County down river to Smith's Landing south of Catskill. The river was open with no ice except a rim along the shoreline and in sheltered bays, coves, and marshes. Our high count was Canada geese with 1,749 birds. Mallards showed significant numbers (191), followed by common merganser (33), and American black duck (19). For raptors, we counted ten bald eagles and five red-tailed hawks. Also notable were three common ravens with one pair displaying a bit of courtship-type flying.
- Richard Guthrie

1/18 – Ulster County, HRM 102-78: The Ulster County section of the annual New York State Ornithological Association’s January Waterfowl Count was conducted today. Twenty participants in eight field parties encountered a remarkable 21 species and 10,012 individual waterfowl, surpassing our previous high count of 17 species recorded in 2016, 2013, and 2008. Our ten-year average for this countywide effort is 11.8 species and 6,225 individuals. Typical for this annual mid-winter survey, two species accounted for 94% of our total count: Canada geese (82%) and mallard (12%). A total of 16 bald eagles (9 adults and 7 immatures) were counted during the course of the waterfowl survey.

The highlight of this year’s count was the magnitude of diversity. Although there was no particular outstanding species this year, hooded mergansers were found in record high numbers (35), surpassing our previous high count of 20, more than four times our ten-year average of 8.2. A single lesser scaup was the first record for this species in over 15 years, and three long-tailed ducks was a new high count over the past 15 years. Sixteen snow geese were tallied and one cackling goose was found in a flock of approximately 3,250 Canada geese amassed on the Wallkill River in the Village of Wallkill.
- Steve M. Chorvas

1/18 – Putnam County, HRM 52: I was looking out my window this morning toward the strip of woods behind my house. Five white-tailed deer came running by, white tails held high. They were really moving, scattered, not even running in a line down their well-worn trail. I knew to keep looking because I had an idea what was behind them. And there it was, a big coyote, beautiful coloring and healthy looking, loping down the deer trail. It was as big as a large German shepherd, so I figure probably a male. If our hill is his territory now, there will be no more foxes for a while – they do not get along.
- Tom Fine

[This was an eastern coyote (Canis latrans). Coyotes in New York frequently grow to larger sizes (on average 24 -45 pounds) than their western counterparts (18-35 pounds) and often have greater color variability. Researchers studying the DNA of coyotes in the Northeast reported evidence that some of these animals have a small percentage of genetic material from wolves and domestic dogs. These findings may help to explain the larger average size and color variation of Eastern coyotes. However, it is important to keep in mind that these are simply coyotes, and although New York’s coyotes may appear similar in size to a German shepherd, they are typically half the weight and it is extremely rare for an individual to exceed 50 pounds. - Tom Lake]

For additional information about the Eastern coyote and preventing conflicts with coyotes, visit the DEC Webpage: Coyote Conflicts.

1/19 – Queens, New York City: I came upon an interesting observation this afternoon on 31st Avenue off Steinway Street in Astoria. Under a huge pin oak tree, six pigeons (rock doves) were “pecking” up a storm, shattering the small acorns into palatable sizes.
- Robert Shapiro

[Unexpected, even odd phenomenon such as this one, can be attributed to the adage “it is all about food.” Richard Guthrie]

1/20 – Brewster, HRM 52: A pair of adult bald eagles flew over us this afternoon. One adult was larger than the other, possibly the female. As they soared, they seemed to be communicating as they moved closer and then moved apart. There was open water in Bog Brook Reservoir, so finding fish was probably not a problem for them. This was thrilling to us because we've seen but not heard eagles. We've never had them fly so low overhead that we could see them in detail without binoculars.
- Tom Fine, Leslie Fine

[This was no doubt a mated pair of adult bald eagles. They often "chortle" as they communicate, a very distinctive call that will quiet human conversation when you hear it. Tom Lake]

*** Fish of the Week ***
Fat sleeper1/20 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 55 is the fat sleeper (Dormitator maculatus), number 206 (of 230) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our fish list, e-mail - trlake7.

[Despite its pedestrian common name, so-called for their rather inactive manner, the fat sleeper is quite the exotic tropical fish. Although it is designated as a temperate marine stray, the fat sleeper is far more common in the Caribbean and Central America where it is found in both salt and freshwater. They are the only member of their family in the watershed (Eleotridae-Sleepers). Ichthyologist C. Lavett Smith delighted in referring to the fat sleeper as “a stubby little fish” (most are ten-inches, or less). Its species name comes from the Latin, Dormio, meaning to sleep; its trivial name comes from the Latin macula, as being spotted or dappled.

They are known in the Hudson River estuary from only a handful of records. The most recent was September 2006 when Christopher Letts collected a greenish-yellow, nondescript looking fish in his killie pot in Croton Marsh – a fish he had never seen before. The next day he caught two more. All were about 50 millimeters (mm). We did some microscope and dichotomous-key lab work, arriving at a couple of possibilities, before giving them to Bob Schmidt of Hudsonia who cleared up our confusion: They were fat sleepers. (Photo of fat sleeper courtesy of North Carolina Fishes)
- Tom Lake

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

1/21 – Saratoga County, HRM 165: A visit in midday to the vicinity of Western Avenue in Charlton resulted in identifying 13 bird species. The highlight was a rough-legged hawk. We also tallied a nice variety of sparrows in one little flock by the side of the road, including American tree sparrow (3), white-throated sparrow (5), and song sparrow (2).
- Ron Harrower (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

Yellow-bellied sapsucker1/21 – Wynantskill HRM 149: A female yellow-bellied sapsucker found our suet feeder irresistible this morning. (Photo of yellow-bellied sapsucker courtesy of George Wilson)
- George Wilson

[The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) earns its common name by drilling lines of holes in the bark of trees to induce sap to flow, which they consume, as well as insects attracted by the sap. Its species name comes from the Greek Sphyra, which translates as “hammer,” a diagnostic trait of woodpeckers. Tom Lake]

Black vultures1/21 – Rensselaer County, HRM 140: The data on our Southern Rensselaer Christmas Bird Count, held on December 29, 2019, has been compiled. Thirty participants in nine field parties tallied 63 species and 13,786 birds. This is the third-highest number of species in the past 20 years, topped only by 2001 and 2007 with 68 species both years, and well above the twenty-year average of 57 species. Early “owling” parties found eastern screech owls and great horned owls.

With lakes frozen, we did not have any waterfowl surprises – single northern pintail and green-winged teal were the only exceptions. One Iceland gull stood out in a large flock of gulls. Other notables were hermit thrush, gray catbird, great blue heron, and belted kingfisher. Good numbers of raptors were seen, including all three falcons (kestrel, merlin, and peregrine), and we found the black vulture roost at Hudson Valley Community College. (Photo of black vultures courtesy of Terry Hardy)
- Naomi Lloyd (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

1/21 – Milan, HRM 90: I counted 41 wild turkeys at my bird feeders this afternoon including two young toms that were displaying, which we interpreted as trying to “impress the hens.” The turkeys stayed longer because I had just thrown a seed mix with corn on the snow for the ground-feeding birds.
- Frank Margiotta (Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club)

1/22 – Saratoga County, HRM 190: I found freshly spread manure on West River Road yesterday, so we came back at midday today. We saw a few horned larks as we walked the road and a huge flock of snow buntings went up and flew all over, settling in tight grassy spots by the side of the road and out into the fields. It was an amazing spectacle.

At one point, there were two large flocks with over 100 snow buntings in one and more than 100 horned larks in the other that came together to feed on the side of the road. If we extrapolated those flocks with those in the field, we estimated that there were at least 300 horned larks and 300 snow buntings. We also spotted at least one or two Lapland longspurs.
- Ron Harrower, John Hershey (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

1/23 – Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: One morning at dawn earlier this week, I came upon hundreds of Canada geese that had dropped down for the night in the tidewater of Wappinger Creek. There were so many that they had to scatter along a half-mile reach of the narrow creek. At dusk this evening, we counted only fifty Canada geese, but among them were two gorgeous snow geese. While the Canadas blended into the sober tones of the winter creek, the snow geese glowed in the diffuse last light. As we left, two dozen more Canadas dropped down to join the raft.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

Summer tanager1/24 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: The female summer tanager (Piranga rubra), first reported here on January 15, was still here this morning (8:40 AM). (Photo of summer tanager courtesy of Stephen Fischer)
- Melissa Fischer, Stephen Fischer (R.T. Waterman Bird Club)

1/24 – Yonkers, HRM 18: With the air temperature at a mild 53 degrees Fahrenheit (F), we put on our waders and went forth to the river to see if anything was home. Despite the river being warmer than expected (44 F), six hauls of our seine produced no fish. We were considering adopting the axiom of all true scientists – no data is still data – when we spotted some movement in the back of the net. It was a tiny (13 mm) white-fingered mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii). There was life out there after all. Salinity was measured at 6.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt).
- Katie Lamboy, Eli Caref, Jay Muller

1/24 – Manhattan, HRM 5: Four years ago, today, January 24, 2016, New York City received 31-inches of snow.
- National Weather Service

Bald eagle courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

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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