A Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program
Compiled by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist
The seasons were changing: Raptor migration was slowing, the river was chilling, winter ducks were arriving, winter fish as well (see 11/26), and a very uncommon crustacean appeared in a killifish pot off Manhattan’s west side. In the upper estuary, a seal has been favoring a lighthouse for nearly four months.
Highlight of the Week
11/19 – Manhattan, HRM 1; We checked our research gear today in Hudson River Park at The River Project's sampling station on the lighthouse tender Lilac at Pier 25. Our killifish pot again held several very tiny blue crabs (10-20 mm) as well as a pleasant surprise, an American lobster (60 mm). (Photo of American lobster courtesy of Siddhartha Hayes)
[The American lobster (Homarus americanus) has a long and storied cultural history in New England and coastal New York. They are a widely distributed, commonly abundant, crustacean found on the continental shelf and inshore waters from Maine through New Jersey. New York Harbor and the Upper Bay are included in DEC’s Lobster Management Area 4 that includes Montauk Point to the northeast and then southwest to Barnegat Bay, NJ. Commercial and recreational size limits are 3⅜-inches minimum and 5¼-inches maximum carapace length. While the average adult lobster weighs 2.0 pounds, they have been known to grow to 44 pounds and live 45-50-years. - Kim McKown]
[I remember the first time I encountered a live lobster. I was ten years-old and watching watermen set pots and traps off Charlestown Breachway in Rhode Island. One of them dip-netted a huge lobster from a tidepool. The lobster was “green”! My first thought was that the lobster was ill. The waterman explained to me that green was in the range of their natural coloring. I later learned that crustacean exoskeletons become red when they are exposed to heat, either by cooking or prolonged exposure to the sun. Tom Lake]
[Note: one inch = 25.4 millimeters (mm)]
- Siddhartha Hayes, Ashlee Zhang, Chelsea Quaies
Natural History Entries
11/16 – Minerva, HRM 284: By this time in a usual year, the fruits of winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) would have been stripped from the plants by passerine birds like cedar waxwings. Not this year, however – they looked fabulous. (Photo of winterberry courtesy of Mike Corey)
- Mike Corey
11/16 – Bedford, HRM 35: It was a fairly slow day at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. Of 21 raptors spotted, red-shouldered hawk was high count with 12. Turkey vultures had the overall lead with 31 birds. Non-raptor migrations included 600 common grackles and 250 American robins.
- Richard Aracil, John Salmon, Lynn Salmon
11/17– Pine Plains, HRM 96: There were hundreds of Canada geese and a number of northern pintail, green-winged teal, American black duck, and mallards in the marsh at The Fly. A bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk made a pass disturbing the waterfowl – the geese increased their muttering and vocalizations to a loud level. I watched a great blue heron catch and devour a redfin pickerel. (Photo of redfin pickerel with great blue heron courtesy of Deborah Tracy Kral)
[The Fly is a wetland area just north of Pine Plains. There is a similar wetland in Ulster County called The Vly. Both names derive from the Dutch word vallei, for low-level valley or creek. Deborah Tracy Kral]
- Deborah Tracy Kral
11/17 – Bedford, HRM 35: It was another slow day at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. Of the eleven raptors spotted, red-shouldered hawk was high count with five. Turkey vultures had the overall lead with 45 birds. Non-raptor migrations included 352 Canada geese, 322 common grackles, and 90 American robins.
- Richard Aracil
11/17– Hook Mountain, HRM 31: In three hours of watching at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch, I spotted just one migrant, a red-shouldered hawk. Non-raptor observations included two ravens.
- Felicia Napier
11/18 – Columbia County, HRM 129: I was expecting to see some wild turkeys in one of their favorite spots at River Street Park in Valatie today. Instead, a great blue heron was finding what it needed gliding north-bound down the middle of Kinderhook Creek. While great blue herons and other birds in the Ardeidae family, are common in New York State, birds that choose to remain during the winter season tend to stay farther south to forage in the Lower Hudson River valley.
[I remember a deep winter, 20 years ago, when Lake Mehaugh, a shallow lake in Westchester County, froze over, causing a massive fish kill of gizzard shad. The fish floated to the top and could easily be seen through two-inches of clear ice. We watched a great blue heron stride onto the ice, and using its bill like a chisel, hammer through the two-inches to get to the fish. The post script to that story, however, was that as soon as the great blue had a fish free, an adult bald eagle would swoop down and steal it. Tom Lake]
- Fran Martino
11/19 – Putnam County, HRM 55: A winter storm-warning was in effect, but the snow had stopped at Little Stony Point. The summit of Storm King was white, like a powdered donut. Sleet and freezing rain were our companions on the beach and in the river as we set our gear. As we slid the net up on the sand after each haul, we discovered that the migrants, those fishes heading seaward, had all left. We were ending our season the same way it had begun eight months ago, with a seine-full of spottail shiners, a resident species of the Hudson Highlands. The water was a bone-chilling 45-degrees Fahrenheit (F).
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth
11/19 – Bedford, HRM 35: It was an extremely slow day at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. No raptors were counted, and the only migrants were turkey vultures (14 birds).
- Richard Aracil
11/19 – Manhattan, New York City: Our Randall's Island Park Alliance staff educators spotted a huge flock of brant covering field #42 (northeast end of Randall's Island) by the Bronx Kill. We guesstimated their number to be around 300 with a few gulls mixed in.
[Brant (Branta bernicla) is a small species of goose. They are seen in the Hudson Valley primarily during spring and fall migration. They winter in Mid-Atlantic coastal areas after breeding in the Canadian Arctic. Tom Lake]
- Jackie Wu
11/20 – Bedford, HRM 35: It was another very slow day at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch with only eight raptors spotted. Bald eagles (4) were high count. Turkey vultures led with 44, with black vultures adding two more. Non-raptor migrations included 408 Canada geese.
- Richard Aracil
11/21 – Beacon, HRM 61: As we set our gear in the shallows, we heard and then saw a V-formation of snow geese across the river over Newburgh. Avoiding hang-downs (there are rocks here the size of basketballs) we managed several clean hauls of our seine, and each one came in bouncing in the sand filed with spottail shiners. As daylight dimmed, we announced last haul, a variation on “last cast,” and fervently hoped for something a bit more exotic. On the last haul, under the last fold of the bag, we found a 100 (mm) tessellated darter. They are a resident species as well, but we had not seen one in a couple of months. Who would have thought that a fish so common in the summer would bring us such joy on the doorstep of winter? The river was seasonally chilly (47-degrees F).
[Among anglers, it is called “last cast,” that moment when you need to pack it up and call it a day. As we gathered our gear on the beach, we discussed how we felt about stowing our nets away for the winter. We agreed that it was akin to reading the final pages of a very good book and wishing that it would never end. Tom Lake]
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
11/21 – Bedford, HRM 35: There was not much migration going on today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. Nineteen raptors were spotted with red-shouldered hawk the high count with nine. Among all migrants, turkey vultures led with 34 birds. Non-raptor migrations included 115 common grackles.
- Richard Aracil
11/21– Hook Mountain, HRM 31: Although we had north winds today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch, we had virtually no migration. Apparently, with the slightly warmer air temperatures, the hawks thought it was spring migration! A pair of turkey vultures left the area and flew due east for Quaker Ridge. An immature bald eagle came up the Hudson River, and without any delay, proceeded north, heading toward Bear Mountain. We did claim one sharp-shinned hawk as a migrant for the day. One other non-raptor observation occurred in the afternoon when we saw an American painted lady butterfly in beautiful fresh colors, likely recently emerged.
- Trudy Battaly, Drew Panko
11/21 – Yonkers, HRM 18: The staff and interns at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, began early with our goal of getting out on the river to seine once a week in winter. Our hope is to keep our dataset going and because seining is just so much fun for us. Given the season, today’s catch was encouraging and included sand shrimp, shore shrimp, amphipods (Gammarus sp.), moon jellyfish, comb jellies, at least one of which was a Beroe’s comb jelly, and six sparkling Atlantic silverside (70-110 mm). (Photo of Beczak seining courtesy of Katie Lamboy)
- Elisa Caref, Katie Lamboy, Evelyn Huntington, Ryland Cullen
11/22 – Town of Athens, HRM 118: This morning, for the first time in the six years that I have lived here full time, I saw a male ring-necked pheasant in my yard. He didn’t seem interested in my bird feeder (unlike the white-tailed deer). Knowing that these birds are almost always escapees from captivity, and that the nearest hunting preserve is fifteen miles away, I cannot imagine how this bird got here. (Photo of ring-necked pheasant courtesy of Michael Stubblefield)
[The ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is native to Asia but has been extensively introduced into North America and raised as a game bird. Seasonal holdovers from hunt club introductions find it difficult to survive in the presence of robust coyote and fox populations in the Hudson Valley. Tom Lake]
- Bill Cavanaugh
11/22 – Manhattan, HRM 1: We concluded our sampling week by checking our research gear in Hudson River Park at The River Project's sampling station on the lighthouse tender Lilac at Pier 25. The killifish pot held a dozen young-of-autumn blue crabs (7.5 - 25 mm), a gorgeous black sea bass (80 mm), and a tiny feather blenny (35 mm). This was our third feather benny (an uncommon catch) this month.
- Siddhartha Hayes, Nina Hitchings, Gianluca Astudillo, Isabel Pryor
11/23 – Bedford, HRM 35: Very light movement of raptors today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. Only six raptors were spotted with red-shouldered hawk high count with four. Turkey vulture (23) and black vulture (2) accounted for most of the migrants. Non-raptor migrations included big common grackle flocks.
- Richard Aracil, Tony Wilkinson
*** Fish of the Week ***
11/24 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 49 is the white bass (Morone chrysops), number 140 (of 230) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail - trlake7.
White bass are one of three river basses (Moronidae) found in the watershed, the others being white perch and striped bass. They are closely related – same genus, different species. White bass can hybridize with striped bass producing a hybrid called “wiper.” They are the only nonnative species of the three originating from the Mississippi and Ohio river systems, and the Great Lakes.
The journey of the white bass to the Hudson River from the Great Lakes probably began sometime after 1825 with the completion of the Erie Canal that connected Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean. Another conduit, Oneida Lake, was connected to Lake Ontario via the Oswego Canal in 1828, that was then linked to the Erie Canal in 1835. These were likely the principle paths for the white bass to reach our watershed.
Since their arrival in the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, relatively few white bass have been documented. After nearly 200 years, it might be expected that they would have settled in and found their niche. DEC Fisheries Biologist Jessica Best checked the Region 3 archives and found just two records of white bass: Kingston (1991) and Catskill (2011). Bob Schmidt found 26 more white bass records in the New York State Museum spanning 1976-2000, collected from river miles 37-124, plus one more from the Mohawk River. While these data did not result from an exhaustive search, they still suggest far fewer records of white bass in the watershed than we might expect. Superficially, they resemble white perch and might go unnoticed when collection gear is checked (not unlike confusing young-of-year silver perch for white perch). White bass feed on small fishes and crustaceans and can reach a foot-long. In parts of the southern U.S., they are known colloquially as “sand bass.”
One day in October 1988, on successive casts, Chris Lake caught a striped bass, a white perch, and a white bass on a silver lure in the warm-water outflow of the Danskammer Power Generating Facility (Orange County). That moment, when all three Moronids were there, has seemingly never recurred. So, the question lingers: Why have they not thrived as have some other Erie Canal immigrants? (Photo of white bass courtesy of Tom Lake)
- Tom Lake
11/25 – Saugerties, HRM 102: A harbor seal was spotted swimming in the river off the Saugerties Lighthouse this morning. It was first seen near channel marker #93 to the south, and then again on the north side of the lighthouse. (Photo of harbor seal courtesy of Patrick Landewe)
[This harbor seal, identifiable by a flipper tag, has set up shop in the vicinity of the Saugerties Lighthouse at the mouth of Esopus Creek in Saugerties. The seal was first seen on August 21, making today Day 113. By all accounts, it appears healthy and active. The seal carries a tag, but we have not been able to read it. Patrick Landewe]
- Patrick Landewe (Lighthouse Keeper)
11/25 – Bedford, HRM 35: Very light movement today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch. Only three migrating raptors were counted, one each red-tailed and red-shouldered hawk, and a bald eagle. Vultures (turkey vulture 8, black vulture 5) led all migrants with 13. Non-raptor migrations included 72 Canada geese.
- Richard Aracil, Karen Troche, Pedro Troche
11/25 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our staff from the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak traipsed into a very turbid and cold river this afternoon with few expectations for our seining. As a result, we were very pleased when three Atlantic silverside showed up in the company of two blue crabs and a sand shrimp. The water was 47.5-degrees F, and the turbidity (FNU) reading was105 mm.
[Turbidity is an optical characteristic measure of water, essentially the relative clarity of a liquid. We use the Formazin Nephelometric Unit (FNU) method for turbidity to measure the amount of light that is scattered by material in the water when a light is shined through the sample. The higher the intensity of scattered light, the higher the turbidity. Today’s measurement (100 FNU) indicated that light could penetrate to a depth of 105 mm. Elisa Caref, Katie Lamboy]
– Elisa Caref, Katie Lamboy, Evelyn Huntington, Ryland Cullen
11/26 – Manhattan, HRM 1: We concluded our Thanksgiving Week research by checking our sampling gear in Hudson River Park at The River Project's sampling station on the lighthouse tender Lilac at Pier 25. While the 80 (mm) black sea bass was not a surprise, the two little spotted hake (60, 65 mm) were! (Photo of spotted hake courtesy of Siddhartha Hayes)
[Spotted hake (Urophycis regia) is one of eight members of the cod family (Gadidae) found in the Hudson River estuary. The others are the Atlantic cod, the Atlantic tomcod, pollock, silver hake (“whiting”), red hake (“ling”), white hake, and the ephemeral fourbeard rockling. All are considered to be marine strays except for the tomcod, a migratory diadromous species that enters the estuary each fall to spawn under the winter ice. Tom Lake]
- Siddhartha Hayes, Nina Hitchings, Toland Kister
11/27 – Bear Mountain State Park, HRM 45.5: I received a fish photo taken in September during marsh restoration work in the Ring Meadow portion of Iona (Island) Marsh. The photographer was concerned that the fish might be an invasive northern snakehead. Looking at the photo, my first impression was a type of sucker and not a snakehead. Using the Hudson River fishes list, I narrowed it down to northern hog sucker (Hypentelium nigricans), an uncommon native species in the lower estuary and the only sizable sucker with a mottled pattern. The photo showed a large dorsal chunk missing near its tail, perhaps evidence of an encounter with a predator such as a snapping turtle. (Photo of northern hogsucker courtesy of Allysa Laik)
[The northern snakehead (Channa argus) is an aggressive, invasive, predatory fish native to parts of Asia. In 2008, it was discovered that northern snakeheads had been introduced to one location in Orange County creating legitimate concerns about the effect that this large predator could have on the watershed. Northern snakeheads are a very resilient fish; they have an accessory breathing apparatus that allows them to survive in poor water quality, even out of water for several days at moderate air temperatures. However, none have been found since. Tom Lake]
- Ed McGowan
11/28 – Orange County, HRM 59: We arrived early on Thanksgiving morning to catch the sunup tide at Kowawese. We had absolutely no expectations. A strong west wind was blowing over the tree-tops, gusting to over 40 mph. On the beach, however, we were in the lee of the hillside. Just back from the water’s edge is a terrace, fifty feet off the beach. Beyond that, the forest. Offshore, the river was raucous, but we had a calm surf. The water was 42-degrees F. After a few hauls of our 85-foot seine with nothing but an empty net, I was ready to pack it in. But Danforth said “One more!” And so, we did. Maybe we woke up the fish. Maybe it was the odds. We were quite surprised bordering on shocked when the net came in vibrating: spottail shiners by the score (no surprise), but then a half-dozen young-of-year golden shiners (61-67 mm). Finally, there were a few young-of-year gizzard shad (70-71 mm), something we do not often catch. It was a decent haul for November 28. We gave thanks. (Photo of gizzard shad courtesy of Tom Lake)
[The terrace that protected us from the gale-force winds played an essential role in our American Revolution. From 1776-1778, Colonial militia with Captain Thomas Machin (1776-1778) maintained a battery of 14 cannons in the vicinity of the terrace to protect a Chevaux-de-frise (100 log frames and 5,281 feet of chain) that was stretched across the river to Pollepel Island, a mile away on the east side. However, British General John Burgoyne's surrender in October 1777 at the Battle of Saratoga eliminated the need, on this occasion, to block British warships from ascending the Hudson. Tom Lake]
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth
11/29 – Westchester County, HRM 35: The final numbers for the 2019 Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, August 25 through November 25, showed a general decrease in total migrants observed. The total raptors plus vultures count for 2018 was 15,571. That number fell to 11,825 in 2019. Individual high count in 2018 was broad-winged hawk (4,278), with sharp-shinned hawk second (1,932). High count in 2019 was again broad-winged hawk (3,363), with sharp-shinned hawk second (1,414). Bald eagle numbers fell from 159 to 137.
- Bedford Audubon
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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