This week was highlighted by snowy owls in the watershed. We are entering the season when snowy owls arrive here from points north and east, often in poor condition from lack of forage in their home range. This could be signaling an incursion year for snowy owls as we saw in 2016.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
12/5 – Norrie Point, HRM 85: Our killifish trap, dangling in the river off the back deck at the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center, gifted us with a delightful surprise today. At first I did not recognize the creature in the dwindling late-afternoon light. It was eight-inches long, had a long “squishy” body that ended in a tapered tail, and was covered in blurry brown spots. But the stubby legs and its external gills were a dead giveaway. We had caught a mudpuppy! Unlike most amphibians, mudpuppies seek a mate in the fall then wait and lay eggs in the spring. During the winter they leave shallow habitats and seek out deeper water. With the water temperature at 41 degrees Fahrenheit, that is probably what this mudpuppy had in mind. (Photo of mudpuppy courtesy of Chris Bowser)
[The common mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus), a relative to the salamander, is an aggressive amphibian. Their diet is made up of just about anything they can swallow from insects to worms, to small fish. As a result they are not uncommonly hooked by anglers. Tom Lake]
- Gracie Ballou
NATURAL HISTORY ENTRIES
[Please note that the raptor first reported as a broad-winged hawk from the Battenkill (HRM 193) on November 27 was confirmed by photos to be a red-shouldered hawk. Tom Lake]
12/2 – Hudson River Watershed: As a service to birders and Christmas Bird Count coordinators, the New York State Ornithological Association maintains an easy-to-use, one-page online calendar of New York State Christmas Bird Counts
- Carena Pooth
12/3 – Rensselaer County, HRM 138: During my mid-afternoon survey of Nassau Lake, I counted 13 species. Most notable among them were common merganser (400), hooded merganser (38), Canada geese (95), and ruddy duck (3).
- Alison Van Keuren (Hudson-Mohawk Birds)
12/3 – Town of Poughkeepsie: There is a tall black locust here that looms over the edge of the river with many branches perfectly aligned to provide excellent feeding, loafing, and even roosting perches for bald eagles. The Soul of NY62 eagle enthusiasts refer to it as “the condo,” as it seems to have many “addresses” among its branches. Today the mated pair from eagle nest NY62 sat perched, side-by-side, peering down at the river. In April this tree must provide an excellent vantage for seeing migrating river herring. Today the pair looked up as a flock of Canada geese descended from their high-flyer formation, likely looking for a nighttime stopover. The eagles showed not the slightest interest, exuding total relaxation.
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
12/4 – Newcomb, HRM 302: It finally looked as though winter was settling into the region. Although we had only an inch of snow on the ground, the High Peaks of the Adirondacks were covered in their winter white. Our larger lakes were still ice free but shallower, smaller water bodies and ponds were ice-covered. The Hudson River was still open but the bay at Route 28N was partially frozen. The combination of abundant American beech nuts, yellow birch and conifer seeds, plus warm weather, was still causing a paucity of birds at local feeders.
- Charlotte Demers
12/4 – Town of Minerva, HRM 287: I came upon something really neat as I was coming back in the dark from North Country Community College in Ticonderoga at 9:00 p.m. The “something” was almost assuredly a mink that ran very quickly across State Route 28N. It was sleek, dark brown, bushy tail, and very fast. I had not seen a mink in Essex Country in a long while.
- Mike Corey
12/4 – Saratoga County, HRM 182: It was a very foggy day on Saratoga Lake. I heard the hooded mergansers before they appeared out of the fog. As I counted 125 of them, I was thinking very poetically to myself that these were “Mergansers in the mist.” The males were in full display as they chased each other and some females as well. The four horned grebes in the fog seemed ethereal in their line with no perceived foreground or background. Among other waterfowl were Canada geese (240), buffleheads (35), and common goldeneye (25).
- Ron Harrower (Hudson-Mohawk Birds)
12/4 – Pine Plains, HRM 96: In a very serendipitous find, I was able to photograph a leucistic American robin roadside in my travels today in eastern Dutchess County. (Photo of leucistic robin courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral)
[Leucism is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird’s feathers. As a result, the birds do not have the normal, classic plumage colors listed in field guides. Instead, the plumage has several color changes, including: white patches where the bird should not have any; paler overall plumage that looks faint, diluted or bleached; overall white plumage with little or no color discernible. Leucism affects only the bird’s feathers, and typically only those with melanin pigment, usually dark feathers. Birding.about.com]
- Deborah Tracy-Kral
12/4 – Beacon, HRM 61: This was an unusual angling day in that my target species, common carp, for which I was geared up, were completely absent. For four hours it was all channel catfish, including the largest one I had ever taken in the Hudson (9 pounds, 9 ounces, 29 inches-long). There were five others as well, ranging in length from 21-24-inches, 2.5-5.0 pounds. They were all males. For some reason, these large males seem to converge along the late-season shoreline. The high level of activity was also very surprising, and welcome, so late in the season.
- Bill Greene
12/4 – Orange County, HRM 61: John Haas, Matt Zeitler, and five members of the Mearns Bird Club spotted a snowy owl on a roof top near Middletown today. (Photo of snowy owl courtesy of Matt Zeitler)
[Winter 2016 saw an unusually large number of snowy owls in our area. It will be interesting to see if that repeats this winter. This is called “the echo effect” where another flight follows a heavy flight. This happens with other northern raptors but doesn't get noticed quite as much as the spectacular presence of snowy owls. Rich Guthrie]
- Ken McDermott
12/5 – Saratoga County, HRM 182: During my mid-to-late-morning bird survey of Saratoga Lake, on a very windy day, I counted eleven species. A drake red-breasted merganser was with two drake common mergansers just offshore at Riley Cove. They were all good looking birds even at this time of the year. Other birds included buffleheads (80), Canada geese (45), and horned grebes (2).
- Ron Harrower (Hudson-Mohawk Birds)
12/5 – Albany, HRM 145: I watched a snowy owl in mid-afternoon on top of a building near downtown Albany. I was first alerted to its presence by a group of crows that were pestering the owl. During my watch it flew to another corner of the same building where it stayed.
- Robert Keefe
12/5 – Manhattan, HRM 1: In surprisingly balmy weather, we checked our collection gear in Hudson River Park at The River Project's sampling station on the lighthouse tender Lilac at Pier 25. There we were surprised to find a nearly foot-long spotted hake (295 mm) in our crab pot.
[Note: one inch = 25.4 millimeters (mm)]
[Spotted hake (Urophycis regia) is one of eight members of the cod family documented for the Hudson River estuary. Among the other seven are some familiar names such as the Atlantic cod, Atlantic tomcod, and pollock, as well as 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
12/6 – Coxsackie, HRM 124: While manning my station for the Winter Raptor Survey in late afternoon at the Coxsackie Flats, I scanned through a large group of Canada geese (1,500-2,000 birds) in a harvested cornfield. I spotted a mid-sized uniformly dark sooty-brown goose with a pale horizontal stripe along its flanks and silvery edges to its folded wing feathers. It had no white features on its head or neck and a smallish dark bill. It was a pink-footed goose actively feeding on scattered corn cobs along with the Canada geese and one cackling goose. I watched it for about 20 minutes, easily picking it out again any time I lost track of it. I suspect that the geese come into that cornfield to feed and roost for the night.
[The Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) has a limited breeding range: the Norwegian island of Svalbard, Iceland, and the east coast of Greenland. They usually winter in the Baltic Sea coasts or eastern Scotland and England. In recent years, a few have been turning up in Canada goose flocks wintering in northeast North America. These occurrences have been increasing in frequency and distribution over the last decade or so. This suggests to me that their Greenland breeding range is expanding and those birds are associating with Canada geese migrating to North America. A few years ago, I photographed a Canada goose in Hudson Falls that had been banded in Greenland by a Danish researcher. Rich Guthrie]
- Rich Guthrie
12/6 – Town of Stanford, HRM 88: A quick scan through the hundreds of Canada geese on Hunn's Lake turned up two “dark morph” snow geese, also known as “blue geese.” There were very few ducks on the lake today. (Photo of snow geese courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral)
- Deborah Tracy-Kral
12/6 – Yonkers, HRM 18: In keeping with our “off-season” seining effort, we made six hauls in mid-afternoon today at the Center for the Urban River at Beczak. Collectively our hauls caught three striped bass, two young-of-the-year (75-90 mm), and one second year, or yearling striped bass (170 mm). Additional fish included Atlantic silverside and an American eel. The water temperature was dropping, now down to 47 degrees F. Salinity was steady at 11.0 parts-per-thousand.
- Elisa Caref, Jay Muller
12/7 – Columbia County: We found a female snowy owl sitting on a fence in a field near Livingston this morning. It was viewed for some time by our birding group while it sat on the fence near a pond. The bird was quite dark, presumably a young female.
- Kathy Schneider, Tom Williams, Naomi Lloyd (Hudson-Mohawk Birds)
12/7 – East Fishkill, HRM 66: We woke up this morning to a yard bearing evidence that a black bear had visited during the night. Our metal squirrel feeders were ripped off the trees and torn apart. An empty plastic refuse can was ripped open and the cover was fifty feet away. I was surprised. I thought the bears would all be wintering by now but I guess there is at least one that isn't ready yet.
- Diane Anderson
12/7 – Brooklyn, New York City: When we hoisted our oyster cages in mid-afternoon from Pier 5 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, we found a feather blenny (30 mm). It was the first one that the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy had ever caught in the East River. [Two weeks ago, three feather blennies (50-85 mm) were caught by The River Project in a killifish trap in the Hudson River off Pier 25.] (Photo of feather blenny courtesy of Haley McClanahan)
[The feather blenny (Hypsoblennius hentz) is a small, scale-less, bottom-dwelling seasonally resident marine fish that lives among rocks, pilings, and shellfish beds, not unlike the naked goby and skilletfish. The feather blenny was added to the Hudson River Watershed Fish Fauna List by a fish captured November 1993 by The River Project from the lower west side of Manhattan. At the time, it was fish number 205 on our watershed list (we now have 227). Tom Lake]
- Haley McClanahan
12/8 – Croton Bay, HRM 34-33: One-hundred thirty-six years ago, Scientific American (September 10, 1881) had a report on Hudson River sharks. As a continuance of their article on sharks in the New York Bight, the report noted that “sharks have also made their appearance further up the Hudson River, above New York, and on the 15th of August at Croton Point, 25 miles from this city, Mr. S. W. Underhill captured three of these monsters in a net that had been set for mossbunkers [Atlantic menhaden]. One of the sharks measured 8 feet 9 inches in length, one 8 ft. and the other 7 feet 6 inches.”
Previously (see October 10) we discussed the likelihood of large sharks presently being in the Hudson River and assessed the possibility as unlikely but not impossible. Nineteenth century records of big sharks in the estuary (most identified at the time as dusky sharks) lacked substantial evidence. However, this report from Scientific American, with specific attention paid to species, lends credibility.
As a follow-up, the magazine noted “In connection with these sharks a specimen of the “ramora” was also taken, in length about 12 inches. Mr. Underhill kindly brought the fish to our office while it was alive. It exhibited its power of attaching itself by suction to the fullest extent, fastening itself to the sides of the vessel with great firmness.”
In 2016, Jeremy Wright, Curator of Ichthyology at the New York State Museum, came upon an unusual specimen while going through the museum’s fish collection. Along with Bob Schmidt, they identified it as a whitefin sharksucker (Echeneis neucratoides). Thus, 162 years after it was collected in the river at Ossining (September 1854), the whitefin sharksucker was added to our list of Hudson River Watershed Fishes. The additional record from 1881 brings our known total of this species in the estuary to two. (Photo of whitefin sharksucker courtesy of L. Johnson)
[The whitefin sharksucker, a remora, is generally a fish of off-shore waters. It was originally recorded from New York Harbor by Samuel Latham Mitchill (1817) and James Ellsworth DeKay (1842), with one noted as occurring a “considerable distance up the Hudson River.” The species’ presence in the estuary, even in small numbers, suggests a 19th century presence of large sharks. The best guess for the captures in Croton Bay would be bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas), which are known to ascend freshwater for great distances. Sharks were not over-fished in the 19th century, so populations were probably pretty high. Now their numbers are way down for a variety of reasons and, as a result, we do not see these large fish entering the estuary anymore. Bob Schmidt]
- Tom Lake
12/8 – Croton Point, HRM 35-34: The Mr. S.W. Underhill above was a member of the Underhill family that for much of 19th century owned Croton Point. In 1804, Robert T. Underhill bought the point from Elijah Morgan Jr. and Robert McCord. Robert Underhill produced Newtown Pippin apples for foreign export and castor bean plants for castor oil. When the blockade of the War of 1812 cut New York City off from the south, he produced watermelons for its populace. Upon Robert’s death, his sons divided the land. Richard acquired an 85-acre tract in the southern portion, and William obtained 165 acres in the north. Richard, who produced a hybrid grape that was resistant to disease, became famous for the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine. The Underhill vineyards attained a worldwide reputation and Croton Point wines were reportedly featured on old Astor House menus. William Underhill’s main occupation was brick-making. He was able to use revolutionary steam-powered machinery to make “Croton Fonts.” At the height of their business, the Underhills operated two extremely productive brickyards and employed several hundred men. A small community evolved for the families of the employees that included a school, a store, a tavern and a boarding house for seasonal workers. A number of these structures still stand today.
- Westchester County Parks
WINTER 2018 NATURAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Wednesday, January 10, 2018 from 12:00 noon - 1:00 pm
Extinction: A Question of Adaptation (Where did all the “elephants” go?)
Tom Lake, Hudson River Estuary Program’s Consulting Naturalist
Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry Street
2018 Saratoga READS series (The Sixth Extinction); no registration required.
Questions: e-mail Chris Alexander
Saturday, February 24 - 1:00 pm
The Changing Ecology of the Hudson River Flyway
Tom Lake, Hudson River Estuary Program’s Consulting Naturalist
Five River Environmental Education Center, Delmar
Posted by the Audubon Society of the Capital Region along with Southern Adirondack Audubon
For information, e-mail John Loz
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
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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 twelve monitoring stations, visit the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System website.
Information about the Hudson River Estuary Program is available on DEC's website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/4920.html .
Smartphone app available for New York outdoor enthusiasts!
DEC, in partnership with ParksByNature Network®, is proud to announce the launch of the New York Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife App for iPhone and Android. This FREE, cutting-edge mobile app gives both novice and seasoned outdoorsmen and women essential information in the palm of their hands. Powered by Pocket Ranger® technology, this official app for DEC will provide up-to-date information on fishing, hunting and wildlife watching and serve as an interactive outdoor app using today's leading mobile devices. Using the app's advanced GPS features, users will be able identify and locate New York's many hunting, fishing and wildlife watching sites. They will also gain immediate access to species profiles, rules and regulations, and important permits and licensing details.
NY Open for Hunting and Fishing Initiative
Governor Cuomo's NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative is an effort to improve recreational opportunities for sportsmen and women and to boost tourism activities throughout the state. This initiative includes streamlining fishing and hunting licenses, reducing license fees, improving access for fishing and increasing hunting opportunities in New York State.
In support of this initiative, this year's budget includes $6 million in NY Works funding to support creating 50 new land and water access projects to connect hunters, anglers, bird watchers and others who enjoy the outdoors to more than 380,000 acres of existing state and easement lands that have gone largely untapped until now. These 50 new access projects include building new boat launches, installing new hunting blinds and building new trails and parking areas. In addition, the 2014-15 budget includes $4 million to repair the state's fish hatcheries; and renews and allows expanded use of crossbows for hunting in New York State.
This year's budget also reduces short-term fishing licenses fees; increases the number of authorized statewide free fishing days to eight from two; authorizes DEC to offer 10 days of promotional prices for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses; and authorizes free Adventure Plates for new lifetime license holders, discounted Adventure Plates for existing lifetime license holders and regular fee Adventure Plates for annual license holders.
Copies of past issues of the Hudson River Almanac, Volumes II-VIII, are available for purchase from the publisher, Purple Mountain Press, (800) 325-2665, or email firstname.lastname@example.org