A Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program
Compiled 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.
In November, four years ago, a humpback whale came through the Narrows into the Upper Bay of New York Harbor and put on a show for a week “lunge-feeding” on Atlantic menhaden. That seemed like a once-in-a-long-long-while event. This week, it happened again. Our Banner this week shows the whale frolicking in the bay in front of the Statue of Liberty.
Highlight of the Week
12/8 – Upper Bay, New York Harbor: We spotted a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) swimming in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor and tracked it from The Battery, along the western shoreline of Governors Island, through the Bay Ridge Flats, and then over to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal on Staten Island. After two hours of searching, we found the whale near Ellis Island. The whale slapped its tail twice as we watched it surface in front of the Statue of Liberty. We estimated it to be about 40-feet-long.
We spent the next four hours with the whale, partly to protect it from other boats in the bay, including the Staten Island Ferry. This definitely brought a bit of excitement to our day. Despite the theory that the whale may have been lured into the Upper Bay by the extensive Atlantic menhaden mortality, we observed it lunge-feeding on live menhaden and it seemed to be strong and healthy. Unlike the 2016 Upper Bay humpback whale that swam back and forth with the bay’s tidal movement, this one actively powered south while it was flooding. We were able to measure the whale’s speed in the water at about three miles-per-hour. (For more information, go to http://www.nymediaboat.com.) (Photo of humpback whale courtesy of Artie Raslich)
[Paul Sieswerda (http://www.gothamwhale.org) has seen this particular humpback whale before. He matched the unique markings on the underside of its tail flukes to previous photos of sightings in the Lower Bay of New York Harbor, as well as off Rockaway in November 2019.
- Bjoern Kils
The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is found world-wide in major seas favoring coastal continental shelf areas. They are a baleen whale, as opposed to a toothed whale like the Orca. Baleen are keratin plates that hang from their upper jaw forming a curtain at the opening of their mouth. As they scoop up (lunge-feeding) large quantities of small fish, the baleen allows them to filter the prey from the water. The humpback whale can reach 52-56 feet in length, weigh 90-thousand pounds, and live fifty years.
In late autumn 2016, a 30-foot-long sub-adult humpback whale cruised the Upper Bay of New York Harbor from the Verrazano Narrows to the George Washington Bridge for six days feasting on Atlantic menhaden before returning to the open ocean. Photos of the whale “lunge-feeding” had us speculating on how many menhaden could fit in a humpback whale’s mouth at one time. Hundreds? More? Tom Lake]
Natural History Entries
12/4 – Minerva, HRM 284: I was out walking a dirt road today and, as I glanced off about 75-feet, I saw the largest red squirrel “midden pile” I'd ever come across. It was cone-shaped, about three-feet high and wide, composed of what turned out to be Norway spruce cone scales (there had been an old plantation of Norway spruce along this old road). Red squirrels seem to be fonder of conifer seeds than do gray squirrels. This guy squatted there for quite a while until I moved some, and then took off, still being silent. (Photo of red squirrel with permission by Paul Smiths College)
- Mike Corey
12/4 – Little Stony Point, HRM 55: We arrived on the beach to see sunrise over the Northern Gateway to the Hudson Highlands. The river was a mirror, a perfect reflection of Storm King on the other side. The river had dropped to 46 degrees Fahrenheit (F), and the salinity had disappeared (barely measurable). Six hauls of our seine came in empty, and we knew that this was the sundown on our season. However, netters always need one more, and seine seven came in with seven fish, six spottail shiners (77-100 millimeters (mm)) and one young-of-year striped bass (78 mm), a straggler from this summer’s year-class. (Photo of spottail shiner courtesy of Tom Lake)
[Note: One inch = 25.4 millimeters]
[Even though the spottail shiner (Notropis hudsonius) is found throughout the Great Lakes, it could be called the “Hudson River fish.” All known biological organisms have a scientific name, usually Latin, Greek, or a combination of the two. Following the protocol for naming a fish, spottail shiners were described and named by De Witt Clinton in 1824, between his two terms as governor of New York State (1817-1823, 1825-1828). Clinton provided a detailed physical description of the spottail shiner and delivered it to the forerunner of the International Committee for Zoological Nomenclature (founded in 1895). They determined that this was a new species and accepted his name Clupea hudsonius (Clupea, Latin for a herring-like fish, and hudsonius in honor of the Hudson River). After several iterations of the genus, New York State Ichthyologist J.R. Greeley settled on Notropis hudsonius (1935). Tom Lake]
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth
12/4 - Manhattan, HRM 2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project Staff checked the sampling and collection gear that we deploy off Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. Even though we had seen plenty of skilletfish (Gobiesox strumosus) in our oyster cages this year, today was the first one caught in our sampling collection gear—a handsome, 55-mm individual! (Photo of skilletfish courtesy of Melissa Rex)
-Siddhartha Hayes, Olivia Radick
12/5 – Cohoes Flats, HRM 157: An adult bald eagle was feasting on a gizzard shad today along the Cohoes Flats. Every year, in late fall, I see eagles catching and feeding on these herring below Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk. This one was from bald eagle nest NY485A on Peebles Island just a couple of miles downstream. I have often seen the Peebles Island pair fly from their nest to the falls. (Photo of bald eagles courtesy of Mike Lemery)
- Mike Lemery
12/5 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 99 is the whitefin sharksucker (Echeneis neucratoides), number 174 (of 234) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail - trlake7.
The whitefin sharksucker is one of two remoras (Echeneidae) documented for the Hudson River estuary. The other is the live sharksucker (E. naucrates), and they are both categorized as temperate marine strays. The whitefin sharksucker is an ocean species that is found from Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico and through the Caribbean. They can reach three feet in length. Echeneis neucratoides is a free-swimming fish but will frequently attach itself, with an adhesive disc on its head, to large fish such as sharks and sturgeon. By hitching a ride, they can often feed on scraps of food (leftovers) discarded by their hosts or feed on ectoparasites that attach to the skin of their hosts.
The whitefin sharksucker was originally recorded from New York Harbor by Samuel Latham Mitchill (1817) and James Ellsworth DeKay (1842). One of the records was noted as occurring a “considerable distance up the Hudson River.” However, since the taxonomy (classification) of the remoras was unsettled, Mitchill’s and DeKay’s fish did not make our list. It is possible that the whitefin sharksucker may have been found earlier and misidentified.
The story of its addition to our fish list begins in the autumn of 1864. Abraham Lincoln is the president of the United State and Horatio Seymour is governor of New York State. Lincoln grants Yosemite Valley to California for "public use,” and Congress passes the Coinage Act that mandates the inscription “In God We Trust” be placed on all United States minted currency coins. America had just endured the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta and Union General William Tecumseh Sherman would soon begin his infamous 285 mile scorched-earth march from Atlanta to Savannah and the sea. Typhoid fever was claiming thousands of Americans.
In September 1864, a commercial fisherman in Ossining, a village in Westchester County that had been renamed from Sing Sing 19 years earlier, captured a fish in the Hudson River that seemed different. We have speculated that this sharksucker was attached to, or had recently dropped off of, an Atlantic sturgeon. The sharksucker finally ended up in the New York State Museum collection as catalog number 11429, where it stayed for 151 years.
In 2015, New York State Museum Curator Dr. Jeremy Wright came upon catalog number 11429 while going through the museum’s fish collection. Dr. Wright and Dr. Bob Schmidt identified it as a whitefin sharksucker (Echeneis neucratoides). Thus, after 151 years in storage, the whitefin sharksucker became species number 225 on our list of Hudson River Watershed Fishes. (Photo of whitefin sharksucker courtesy of CB Cox)
- Tom Lake
12/6 – 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: http://nybirds.org/ProjCBC.htm
- Carena Pooth (Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club)
12/6 – Croton Bay, HRM 34: There was a large scattering of 29 bald eagles observed this morning along the east side of Croton Bay (Crawbuckie) just south of the Croton River train trestle. This was a day after a blow-out tide (strong, sustained northwest winds) had exposed extensive sandbars and mud flats. Wintering bald eagles ordinarily arrive here in early January making this large gathering atypical. This may have been a collateral effect of the Atlantic menhaden die-off, being that “fatbacks” are a preferred food staple for eagles.
[Crawbuckie and Inbuckie are colloquial names used to describe the mile of tidemarsh and shoreline between the mouth of the Croton River and Ossining (river miles 33-34). The origin of the names is hazy, but they were commonly used by local Rivermen for well over a century. Crawbuckie is the low-tide beach on Croton Bay made equally famous in the 1960s and 70s by striped bass anglers, when catching one of any size was big news. Inbuckie is the adjacent tidemarsh inside and east of the railroad tracks. Prior to the early nineteenth century, when the railroad bisected them, they were one. Tom Lake]
- Larry Trachtenberg
12/7 – Dutchess County, HRM 69-67: Paired adults for at least two local bald eagle nests on the Hudson River (NY459A and NY62) have returned to begin their renovating process preparatory to courtship and mating in early 2021.
- Brenda Miller, Mauricette Pohat
12/7 – Hudson River Watershed: We had questions about dating stone tools last week stemming from the discovery of an 8,000-year-old spear point from Ulster County.
Ancient stone tools such as arrowheads and spear points, as well as utilitarian tools such as scrapers, awls, hammerstones, and knives, except in rare instances, cannot be directly dated. Most often an approximate date is arrived at through radiocarbon dating (14C) of organic material found in direct association with the stone tool. An example would be white-tailed deer bones found in the same context as a spear point or stone knife. The radiocarbon date of the deer bones could quite confidently be applied to the age of the stone tool. Organic remnants from a hearth or a kitchen midden where a stone tool was found can also be radiocarbon dated. (Photo of stone tools courtesy of Tom Lake)
- Tom Lake
12/8 – Fort Edward, HRM 202: I spent some time this morning covering secondary roads on both sides of State Road 197 at the Fort Edward grasslands. I was mainly prospecting for common redpolls or other winter finches. I did not find any, but wintering raptors seemed to be picking up. In addition to numerous red-tailed hawks, I spotted a dark-morph rough-legged hawk, two northern harriers, a Cooper's hawk, and an American kestrel. Rounding out the morning was a group of twenty American tree sparrows.
- Gregg Recer (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
12/8 - Hudson River Watershed: Following the Ice Age and the retreat of glacial ice from the Laurentide Ice Sheet about 15,000 years ago, marine mammals began visiting the Hudson River estuary. With lower sea levels, it took a while for the ocean waters to find the lower river. By the time the first of us arrived, about 12,000 years ago, marine mammals were likely quite common. (Photo of harp seal courtesy of Tom Lake)
[The list of Hudson River estuary marine mammals documented in the Hudson River Almanac across the last 25 years includes:
- harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)
- hooded seal (Cystophora cristata)
- gray seal (Halichoerus grypus)
- harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus)
- common (harbor) porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)
- Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)
- bottlenose (common) dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
- Florida manatee-2006 (Trichechus manatus latirostris)
- minke whale-2007 (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
- humpback whale-2016 (Megaptera novaeangliae).
12/8 - Manhattan, HRM 2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project Staff checked the sampling and collection gear that we deploy off Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. We finally caught some of the dying menhaden that had been washing up around Manhattan (285-315 mm). We also caught a live fish, a 205 mm white perch in our gear.
-Olivia Radick, Anna Koskol
12/9 – Boreas River, HRM 294: It was snowing, and the air temperature hovered around freezing making for a comfortable hike along the Boreas River. The snowflakes fell soundlessly on the red spruce boughs and the fragrance of the balsam fir was intoxicating. It was altogether, a winter wonderland.
The forest was alive with birds—diverse if not numerous—including ravens, both white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches, crossbills (I think I saw both red and white-winged), pine siskins, and a fleeting glimpse of an evening grosbeak. The highlight was the sharp “kik-kik-kik” of a black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus), only the second one I had ever seen (the first was here five years ago).
Those of us residing along the Hudson River estuary ought to make an effort to travel north on occasion, especially in winter, to visit “the other river,” above tidewater.
- Tom Lake
12/9 – Saratoga County, HRM 182: I had expectations of sprawling rafts of waterfowl on Saratoga Lake, but quickly realized that I was too early in the season. Serious winter weather had yet to penetrate the far north regions of New England and Canada.
Although there were no large middle-of-the-lake rafts, there were smaller scatterings just offshore of Canada geese, common mergansers, buffleheads, and ring-necked ducks, all in ten-power binocular range. Highlights included four common loons in winter plumage (loons are spectacular in any season), and nine snow geese not far offshore on the east side of the lake.
- Tom Lake
12/9 – Upper Bay, New York Harbor: We spent fifteen hours over the next three days looking for the humpback whale but were unable to locate it again in the Upper Bay. I was also unaware of any further sightings and currently have seen no indication that this humpback whale was still in the Hudson River. It likely passed back through the Narrows and out into the Lower Bay of New York Harbor.
- Bjoern Kils
12/10 – Putnam County, HRM 54: Visitors to my wild bird feeders seemed to have significantly decreased over the last few weeks. The Cooper’s hawk that appeared on the scene today may have had something to do with that. It landed in the bushes just two feet above ground level, and the gray squirrels that had been stocking up on sunflower seeds fled the scene. What a gorgeous raptor specimen. (Photo of Cooper's hawk courtesy of Steve Rock)
- Steve Rock
12/10 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted just two migrating raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today, both red-tailed hawks.
- Trudy Battaly, Drew Panko
12/11 – Saratoga County, HRM 182: Late this afternoon I saw a larger group (see 12/7) of snow geese, but these were far out into the middle of Saratoga Lake, viewed from Brown's Beach. There were also a lot of Canada geese in the south end of the lake. I suppose the geese spend the night on the lake and go out into the fields each day to feed.
- Gregg Recer (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
Winter 2020 Natural History Programs
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.