A Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program
Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist
COVID-19 Guidance for Enjoying the Outdoors
While enjoying outdoor spaces, please continue to follow the CDC/NYSDOH guidelines for preventing the spread of colds, flu, and COVID-19. To find out more about enjoying DEC lands and New York's State Parks, visit DEC's website Play Smart*Play Safe*Play Local; https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/119881.html
Keep at least six (6) feet of distance between you and others.
Wear a cloth face covering in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, and kissing.
Wash hands often or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
Avoid surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs, handrails, and playground equipment.
DEC recommends avoiding busy trailheads. Find the trails less traveled and visit when trails may not be as busy during daylight hours.
Bald eagles have become a major part of weekly Almanac stories, a trend that will continue through winter, spring, and into summer when the nestlings become fledglings. There has been an increase in wintering eagles along the tidewater reach of the river; this will become more noticeable if we get some floe ice. Our Highlight comes plural this week with two stories of what we think was the same seal. Nevertheless, we seem to have at least three seals, likely all harbor seals, in the estuary right now.
Highlights of the Week
1/14 – Croton River HRM 34: As we sat in our car early this morning watching the flow of the Croton River where it meets Croton Bay, a seal passed by with small porpoising leaps from the water. The seal was mottled brown, very active and acrobatic, and appeared to be having fun the entire time. Three immature bald eagles were perched along the tree line across the Croton on the south side. (Photo of harbor seal courtesy of Patrick Landewe)
- Jack Hoyle, Lori Hoyle
1/14 – Croton River HRM 34: I was paddling my kayak on the lower Croton River early this morning when a very curious seal appeared alongside. As we parted, the seal was headed upstream in the last of the flood tide.
[A short video by Jack Hoyle, and physical descriptions by Rich Broat and Jack Hoyle, suggests a young harbor seal. Tom Lake]
- Rick Broat
Natural History Entries
1/9 – Staatsburg, HRM 86: We were walking through the woods in mid-afternoon on the Margaret Lewis Norrie section of the Mills-Norrie State Park when we saw a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) trotting over a frozen pond just north of the campground. After leaving the pond, the fox nosed along both sides of a fallen tree before turning and disappearing over a ridge.
Twenty minutes later we spotted a red fox just west of the railroad tracks and north of the Mills-Norrie Park entrance road. It was nosing around a small clearing, then went off to the north. At first, we thought this was the fox we had seen earlier and marveled at seeing it twice in one day. Then, 100 feet farther on we looked down on a small stream and spotted another fox, certainly not the same one we'd just seen disappearing in the opposite direction. We walk the park almost every day, and we think ourselves lucky if we see a red fox once or twice a year. Seeing two, and possibly three, in one day was remarkable. All the foxes we saw appeared to be healthy. (Photo of red fox courtesy of Bob Rightmyer)
[The other fox: Ten years ago, as we pulled into our driveway in Staatsburg, a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) trotted right past the car and through the back yard. We saw it again several times around the south edge of Staatsburg, but not since.]
-Linda Lund, David Lund
1/9 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 103 is the smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena), number 5 (of 234) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail - trlake7.
We added the smooth hammerhead in April 2018 to our watershed list of fishes after analyzing a number of 19th century reports: Scott Craven found a reference to large sharks in the Hudson River from the New York Evening Post, September 24, 1851. “A shark of the shovel-nosed species measuring eight and a half feet in length, and weighing it is estimated, over three hundred pounds, was taken at Croton Cove [river mile 34], Westchester county on Thursday last [September 18].” A similar report of a shovel-nosed shark at Croton was reported in 1881. John Waldman's Heartbeats in the Muck, tells of other unsubstantiated records including a hammerhead shark at Cornwall (1870s). Another record from Cornwall-on-Hudson (river mile 57) was thought to be a smooth hammerhead by E.A. Mearns (1898).
If we take these reports to be accurate, then they are describing a hammerhead shark. Of the large hammerhead sharks in the western Atlantic at this latitude, the candidates are the smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena) and the scalloped hammerhead (S. lewini). They both attain the requisite size (14-feet-long) and the literature cites them as being known to enter estuaries, the smooth hammerhead much more so than scalloped. For example, “This shark [smooth hammerhead] has been reported entering freshwater habitats, such as the Indian River in Florida” (D.A. Ebert 2003). Murdy, Birdsong, and Musick (1997) describe the smooth hammerhead as “an occasional visitor” in Chesapeake Bay but note the scalloped hammerhead as “rarely entering.” They also consider the smooth hammerhead to be much more of an inshore species than the scalloped hammerhead. Briggs and Waldman (2002) comment that the smooth hammerhead is “not uncommon” in New York marine waters.
Smooth hammerhead ranges from the Canadian Maritimes to the Florida Keys, while scalloped hammerhead is known from New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico. Although their ranges overlap, the more northerly range of the smooth hammerhead seems to favor their presence in the estuary. Both species are active predators that eat a variety of prey such as hake, skates and rays, crustaceans, octopus and squid. Like most sharks, the smooth hammerhead has special sensory cells in their heads used to detect electric fields produced by other fishes. These electroreceptors allow hammerheads to more accurately locate prey, especially those buried in the sand like stingrays (NOAA Fisheries). (Photo of smooth hammerhead courtesy of Norbert Probst)
- Tom Lake
1/9 – Ulster County: I went out in mid-afternoon to survey bald eagle nest NY142 for my contribution to the 44th annual New York State Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey.
The nest looked newly refurbished with new sticks. Arriving at viewing distance, the larger adult of the pair (possibly the female) was standing mid-nest but then fluttered her way to a perching branch with its vantage over the Hudson River. She kept her broad shoulders toward me but glanced back on occasion to check on me—she knew I was there but so far, she showed trust. I watched patiently for an hour hoping for a return of the male but without any luck.
There had been much activity recently as well as courtship displays. Prior to mating, pairs frequently do an elaborate “sky dance” of talon-grabbing, wing touching, and synchronized flights. NY142 looked alive and well. (Photo of bald eagle courtesy of Mario Meier)
[Stay or Leave? While each situation is unique and circumstances will vary, on average, bald eagles have an alert distance of 250 meters (they recognize you are there), and a flight distance of 125 meters (they feel disturbed and will leave. Tom Lake]
- Mario Meier
1/9 – Dutchess County, HRM 60-100: December 19 was the 120th running of the Dutchess County Christmas Bird Count, and the 62nd run by the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club, currently coordinated by Adrienne Popko.
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was inaugurated on Christmas day in 1900 by Frank Chapman of the National Audubon Society. The purpose of this annual census, now enjoyed by over 50,000 participants throughout the western hemisphere each year, is to gather data that can be used to identify bird population trends from year to year, which in turn can help scientists understand environmental impacts of weather, habitat loss, industrialization, human expansion, and other factors.
For the Christmas Bird Count, the Americas are divided into circles that are 15 miles in diameter. Within each circle, a team of volunteers spends an entire day (in the second half of December or in early January) counting all bird species and individuals within each species. The results are compiled at the end of the day for each circle, and then sent to the National Audubon Society for inclusion in the complete records.
For this year’s Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club Dutchess County Christmas Bird Count, seven groups comprised of 32 observers counted 72 species. Chief among the notable sightings were 1,087 Canada geese, 15 American coot, six bald eagles, 128 fish crows, 19 common redpoll, and one Baltimore oriole. New record numbers were reported for black vulture (15), downy woodpecker (159), common raven (10), dark-eyed junco (1,478), and red-winged blackbird (897).
- John Askildsen, Carena Pooth
1/9 – Pine Plains, HRM 96: In mid-afternoon I watched four immature bald eagles dive-bomb for fish and ducks (mallards and common mergansers) on Stissing Pond. The eagles flushed the ducks out of the pond, but the ducks looped around and landed back where they started. The mergansers appeared to stop paying them attention after a few mock attacks, which seemed like a risky game to play. This went on for 45 minutes until the eagles took a breather and went off to perch in pond-side trees. We never saw any successful grabs of ducks, but a few fish were taken.
- Jamie Collins
1/9 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Both adults from bald eagle nest NY459 were perched at either end of a twenty-foot-long deadfall in Wappinger Creek below the nest. One was tearing at an American eel, and the other was ripping away at a channel catfish. Out in the creek, common mergansers were catching small silvery fishes that appeared to be white perch. (Photo of common mergansers courtesy of Brenda Miller)
- Brenda Miller
1/10 – Hudson River Valley: The sun rose at 7:19 AM this morning, one minute earlier than yesterday. This was the first since June 18, when we began to add minutes before sunrise.
- National Weather Service
1/10 – New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: Several readers voiced interest in our discussion last week of nets snagging old oyster shells as they became hung down on an old oyster reef. This was Diamond Reef, located in mid-river off New Hamburg, bisecting deep-water channels on either side.
In the mid-1990s, New Hamburg riverman Lawson Edgar, commercial fisherman John Scardefield, and I recreated their 1950s efforts to commercially catch white perch. Our attempt came at the tail end of shad season in mid-May when we drifted our 150-foot, three-inch-mesh gillnet in the down tide. We planned to skirt the very edge of Diamond Reef where we felt the fish would be holding. However, as anyone who has drifted in the river’s current will attest, the vagaries of the flow can be very unpredictable. Three times out of five we’d get hung down, and in tugging the net free, we’d haul an old oyster shell or two to the surface. As best as I can recall, we caught 7-8 old oyster shells and 10-12 white perch, some of them 10-inches-long. “Market perch" John called them.
[During a slack tide on April 11,1999, in company with John’s son Stephen, we scattered John’s ashes on Diamond Reef. Tom Lake]
- Tom Lake
1/10 – Verplanck, HRM 40.5: We approached Steamboat Dock at Verplanck with hopes of spotting our first bald eagle of the year. The river shone like glass with the rosy reflection of the setting sun streaming across. To our delight, there was a solitary immature bald eagle perched on a limb of a high tree just off the river. We watched for a while and the bird remained still, looking downriver, perfectly comfortable in its setting. We certainly appreciated this New Year’s gift!
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson
1/11 – Verplanck, HRM 40.5: Same place, Steamboat Dock, same time, midday, same tree, different branch! After yesterday’s sighting of an immature eagle on a tree along the river, we were delighted to see a beautiful adult bald eagle perched high on a branch of the same tree at the Verplanck waterfront. Its white head gleamed in the waning sunlight as it gazed out over the shining waters of the river.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson
1/12 – Fort Edward, HRM 202: The Fort Edward Grassland was alive with short-eared owls today. Scott Stoner, Denise Hackert-Stoner, and Susan Beaudoin, in separate searches, counted no fewer than nine short-eared owls. Other birders, a while later, found as many as 16. Other raptors included seven northern harriers, two adult bald eagles, two American kestrels, and a red-tailed hawk. (Photo of short-eared owl courtesy of Jim Yates)
- Scott Stoner, Denise Hackert-Stoner, Susan Beaudoin (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
1/12 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 66.5: Call of the Wild. In the dark of a winter night, made doubly dark by the impending new moon, it took quite a ruckus to wake me. The commotion was the expansive sounds of coyote cries, calling from all quarter, that drew me outside. The cold and still air amplified the chorus suggesting far off gatherings as well as some in our backyard woods. I could hear the nearby coyotes tramping in the wet leaves. Then, as I have heard on other occasions, they all stopped at once as though a switch was thrown.
Coyotes are one of a handful of iconic species in our watershed whose presence authenticates remnants of wildness, along with loons, eagles, ravens, moose, bobcats, and black bears. (Photo of coyote courtesy of Charlotte Demers)
- Tom Lake
1/13 – Albany County, HRM 140: I spotted a snowy owl in mid-afternoon on the Helderberg Trail in East Berne. The owl was on top of a power pole, part of a power line that crosses a large field occupied by a few horses.
- Alison Van Keuren (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
1/13 – New Baltimore, HRM 131.5: In last week’s Almanac (see January 2) we investigated the possible origins of oyster shells found on Polly Sherman’s Beach in New Baltimore. Jean Bush, of New Baltimore, seconded our thesis that oysters were not found in local waters, but were transported there, over time, from points closer to the sea.
Jean Bush continues, “For sure, in the 1700s, oysters were being devoured in New Baltimore. I found no quick reference to their origin, but there were many boats plying the river between New York City and Albany, including those owned by the Sherman family boatyard. The Eagle Tavern, owned by the Sherman's son-in-law, adjoined the shipyard. I can imagine staff and patrons throwing both oyster shells and used clay pipe fragments onto the beach.”
“The New Baltimore Notes column in the April 17, 1873 issue of the Coeymans Herald, comments that ‘A.J. McLaughlin remains at his old stand on Steamboat Square. Mac is all right. Boys, when you want any candies, peanuts or oysters, give him a call.’”
“In the December 26, 1874 issue, the Grapeville column (a hamlet in adjoining New Baltimore) comments ‘The oyster supper given on Christmas Eve, at the Grapeville Baptist Church, for the benefit of the genial and ever-obliging sexton, Geo. Losee, Esq., was a decided success pecuniarily.’ Through those early years there are several mentions of benefit oyster suppers given.”
- Tom Lake
1/14 – Saratoga County, HRM 170: We decided to follow up on a report of white-winged crossbills at Round Lake Preserve. After a five-minute wait, a flock of 35 arrived and began munching on pinecones. More and more kept coming in flying all along the tops of the conifers. Although the leaden sky made good photos almost impossible, the magic of seeing all the crossbills going at the pinecones was heartening.
[We estimated that at least 100 white-winged crossbills were altogether in view. This has been an irruption year and white-winged crossbills, red crossbills, pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks and common redpolls are being seen in high numbers in our region. Ron Harrower]
- Ron Harrower John Hand (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
1/15 – Columbia County, HRM 127: It was late afternoon heading into dusk when I found 2,000 Canada geese in a cornfield near Stuyvesant. Mixed in were three snow geese, one adult and two immatures. On a different level altogether, a peregrine falcon was perched on a telephone pole eating a pigeon.
- Nancy Kern
1/15 –Town of Warwick, HRM 41: There was no sunrise this morning. Dense fog shrouded the Black Dirt region of Orange County making birding a challenge bordering on impossible. For most of the early hours, raptors on wires were the major sightings. The 335-acre Liberty Marsh, 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, was frozen. A scattering of hooded and common merganser paddled in the Wallkill and two rough-legged hawks were perched, a football field apart, on telephone poles. Between them was a merlin.
[“Black Dirt” is an area of southwest Orange County between Florida and Pine Island. The region is an important agricultural area growing farm produce such as onions, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, cabbage, carrots, corn, pumpkin, and squash in the rich black soil. The Black Dirt topsoil is immensely organic, essentially a compost heap, originating from the decaying flora and fauna of a late Pleistocene lake and swampland. The fields and wetlands contain bones of long extinct species such as mammoths, mastodons, elk-moose, peccary, ground sloth, horse, giant beaver and other magnificent animals that lived and died here. Tom Lake]
- Tom Lake
1/15 Town of Minisink, HRM 42: During a birding loop around the Black Dirt region, I passed a field that held 100 Canada geese. In the still-foggy air, I would have missed them except for three snow geese in their midst glowing in stark-white contrast in the defused light.
[Fifteen years ago, my colleagues and I conducted an archaeological cultural resource assessment of the field in this rural pastureland. Our findings, through artifacts, suggested an occasional passage by nomadic hunters and gatherers 4,000 years ago. A hunter’s single spear point (Hardaway Side-notched), found in a shovel test, may have been dropped there 9,000 years ago. I wondered if the field held Canada and snow geese all those millennia ago. Tom Lake]
- Tom Lake
Winter 2020 Natural History Programs
Tuesday, January 26, 2021 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
Natural Resource Inventories Webinar, part of the Conservation and Land Use Webinar 101 series. (Click link for more information and to register)
Since 2015, the Hudson River Estuary Program has been providing training, technical assistance, and grants to support the development and application of NRIs in the estuary watershed. This webinar will provide an overview of approaches to creating an NRI and features case studies from two recently completed projects in Columbia County and the City of Poughkeepsie.
Presenters: Ingrid Haeckel, NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program and Cornell University; Christine Vanderlan, Columbia Land Conservancy; Jen Rubbo, Vassar Environmental Cooperative; and Natalie Quinn, City of Poughkeepsie
The Estuary Live! (Hudson River Estuary Program)
Our environmental education programs are broad, varied, flexible, and dependent on the needs and interests of your students. These distance-learning programs can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and are available on ZOOM, Google classrooms, or Webex platforms. Pre-program materials from our Virtual River content include videos and lesson plans for students to explore before their Estuary Live! program. Students are encouraged to ask questions which creates an interactive learning environment, rather than a lecture. Estuary Live! is often hosted from an outdoor location but is dependent on the weather and cell service. The Norrie Point Environmental Center has three indoor sets (The Library, The Lab, and The Classroom) that allow us to stay connected during lessons and give students a feeling of being here with us.
Program types and a brief description of the topics:
Wildlife (e.g., amphibians, turtles, and fish)
Hudson River basics, e.g. geography, tides, salinity, turbidity, temperature, basic ecology.
Stream Study: macroinvertebrates, e.g., adaptations, habitat, and human impact.
Educators can schedule a program for their students:
Contact Maija Lisa Niemistö email:maija.niemisto
Follow Us On-Line:
Check out our wonderful Tide Finder video (3 minutes) with Chris Bowser marking the extreme highs and lows of a full moon tidal cycle: Tide Finder video
Virtual River website: Virtual River Website
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
The Conservationist, the award-winning, advertisement-free magazine focusing on New York State's great outdoors and natural resources. The Conservationist features stunning photography, informative articles and around-the-state coverage. Visit The Conservationist webpage for more information.
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.
PLAY SMART * PLAY SAFE * PLAY LOCAL: Get Outside Safely, Responsibly, and Locally
New York State is encouraging residents to engage in responsible recreation during the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. NYSDEC and State Parks recommendations for getting outside safely incorporate guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NYS Department of Health for reducing the spread of infectious diseases.
DEC and State Parks are encouraging visitors to New York's great outdoors to use the hashtags #PlaySmartPlaySafePlayLocal, #RecreateResponsibly, and #RecreateLocal on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share their visit and encourage others to get outside safely, responsibly, and locally, too. Use the DECinfo Locator to find a DEC-managed resource near you and visit the State Parks website for information about parks and park closures.
Take the Pledge to PLAY SMART * PLAY SAFE * PLAY LOCAL: Enjoy the Outdoors Safely and Responsibly
1. I pledge to respect the rules and do my part to keep parks, beaches, trails, boat launches, and other public spaces safe for everyone.
2. I will stay local and close to home.
3. I will maintain a safe distance from others outside of my household.
4. I will wear a mask when I cannot maintain social distancing.
5. I accept that this summer, I may have to adjust how I enjoy the outdoors to help keep myself and others healthy and safe, even if it means changing my plans to visit a public space.
6. I will be respectful of others by letting them pass by me if needed on a trail and keeping my blanket ten feet apart from others on the beach.
7. I will move quickly through shared areas like parking lots, trailheads, and scenic areas to avoid crowding.
8. If I'm not feeling well, I will stay home.
Information about the Hudson River Estuary Program is available on DEC's website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/4920.html.