A Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program
Compiled by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist
Fish reports continued to wane as birds claimed the far greater share of our stories. Among the usual migrating waterfowl were two uncommon geese. And the saga of our amazing harbor seal had now exceeded four months.
From the Hudson River Almanac Staff, to all of our readers and contributors, we wish you a warm and Happy Holiday Season!
- Tom Lake, Nancy Beard, Sherri Mackey, Maude Salinger
Highlight of the Week
12/11 – Westchester County, HRM 27: I counted three cackling geese and an emperor goose among about 350 Canada geese on lower Tarrytown Lake. The emperor goose may be the one Brendan Fogarty reported on November 28 at White Plains, four miles to the south. The emperor goose (Anser canagicus) was larger than I was expecting and very attractive. In the scope I could see a single, oversized, unmarked silver band on its left leg, which is not consistent with any official banding procedure in North America, as far as I can tell. [The emperor goose is native to eastern Siberia and western Alaska. This one was almost certainly an escape from captivity.] (Photo of cackling goose courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral)
[The cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii) is a smaller version of the Canada goose. It was formerly considered the smallest subspecies of one variable species, but recent work on genetic differences found the four smallest forms to be very different. These four races are now recognized as a full species: the cackling goose. It breeds farther northward and westward than does the Canada goose. Cornell Lab of Ornithology]
- Bob Lewis
Natural History Entries
12/7 – Saugerties, HRM 102: Thoughts on the Saugerties Harbor Seal on Day 106: With winter near, there would seem to be no river-related concerns with the well-being of the seal. Harbor seals are comfortable in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, and the Hudson River will not pose any difficulties.
In contrast, our Saratoga County gray seal (December 2015) was trapped upriver above several dams and locks, 72 miles above tidewater and 164 miles from the sea, for 133 days. Only weeks from the river freezing over, which may have been fatal, that seal needed rescuing and reintroduction into the Atlantic Ocean by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
- Tom Lake
12/7 – Westchester County, HRM 35: My husband and I were in the house in Mount Kisco when we heard loud cries of a bird in peril. We looked and saw that a Cooper’s hawk had a male red-bellied woodpecker pinned to the ground in a death grip. The cry was from the woodpecker. I quickly grabbed my spotting scope and began to photograph this horrific scene. Nature can be quite cruel, but as many would argue, it is fair. (Photo of Cooper's hawk courtesy of Elizabeth Castrataro-Capua)
- Elizabeth Castrataro-Capua
12/7 – Orange County, HRM 46: A trip through Pine Island and the “Black Dirt” agricultural region of southwest Orange County is a treat in any season. With a strong west wind and blue sky, I anticipated a flight day for waterfowl, but it did not materialize. We watched a merlin cruise low over a snow-covered field passing just above six nervous starlings on a wire. A short while later the merlin cruised back, and this time the starlings decided to not tempt their good luck twice. A rough-legged hawk and a red-shouldered hawk cut circles in the sky. (Photo of merlin courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral)
- Tom Lake
12/8 – Rockland County, HRM 33: I stopped by bald eagle nest NY336 in late afternoon. Both adults were there, one in the nest, the other perched close by. The perched eagle (the male?) eventually took off and began circling around Lake Deforest.
- Chris Galligan
12/9 – 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.html
- Carena Pooth (R.T. Waterman Bird Club)
*** Fish of the Week ***
12/9 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 51 is the tessellated darter (Etheostoma oldstedi), number 162 (of 230) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail - trlake7.
The tessellated darter is a freshwater perch (Percidae) one of eight members of that family in the watershed. Among others are yellow perch and walleye. Of the eight, three are native species, including the yellow perch, northern logperch, and the tessellated darter.
Darters draw their common name from their hunting strategy. They lie motionless on the sandy river bottom they prefer. Being perfectly camouflaged – pale yellow-to-green with dark X’s and Y’s – nearly invisible, propped on their pelvic fins, they await prey such as insects (especially mosquito larvae), small fishes, amphipods, and shrimp. Then, in a blur, they dart out capturing their target. Tessellated darters are short (no more than 90 mm-long) and nearly terete in cross-section. (Photo of tessellated darter courtesy of Tom Lake)
[Note: one inch = 25.4 millimeters (mm)]
- Tom Lake
12/10 – Yonkers, HRM 18: The lure was too great – we went out and hauled our seine in the cold river. Saying we had no expectations would have been an understatement. Yet, the net came in with echoes of warmer days with six young-of-year striped bass, eight mummichogs, and a gorgeous Atlantic silverside. (Photo of Atlantic silverside courtesy of Tom Lake)
[The seining season lingers longer south of the Hudson Highlands where brackish water creates more of a comfort zone and seems to keep the fish around – many will winter there. Tom Lake]
- Katie Lamboy, Elisa Care
12/11 – Saugerties, HRM 102: We have had several sightings of a red fox along the walking trail to the Saugerties Lighthouse as well as paw prints in the sand. While discussing the fox, the status of the long-tenured harbor seal came up. Recent guests in the lighthouse told me that they had seen the seal during their previous visit on August 10. Another visitor on Lighthouse Drive said they photographed the seal on August 5th.
This pushes back the presence of the harbor seal at the mouth of Esopus Creek from August 21 to August 5, and makes the seal’s longevity, as of December 5 (last sighting), 123 days.
[It is a good sign that the seal has been observed eating fish. It would be very helpful to get clear images of the seal’s body conditioning and a photo of the tag so we could determine its history. I am betting it is a pup that was rehabilitated in Mystic, Connecticut, and then released. It is likely that the seal was originally stranded in Maine as a dependent pup. This may explain the unusual living arrangements. As long as there is available food, and its behavior does not drastically change, there is no reason for concern.
- Patrick Landewe
- Kimberly Durham (Atlantic Marine Conservation Society)
12/12 – Town of Ossining, HRM 33: I was returning home on Quaker Bridge Road in late afternoon when I saw something dart across the road in front of me. I slowed down to look. I could clearly see a red fox, its head turned toward me with its angular fox features and very bushy tail. I had not seen one in quite some time, and it was real pleasure to watch this reclusive animal. (Photo of red fox courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral)
- Scott Horecky
12/12 – Manhattan, HRM 1: With winter nigh, our sampling was now down to once-a-week as we checked our research gear in Hudson River Park aboard the steamship Lilac, moored at Pier 25. We were met with the usual invertebrate suspects: mud crabs, isopods, amphipods, and shore shrimp. But, not so usual were the sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa). The delight of the catch however, was our third spotted hake (Urophycis regia) of the season, a young-of-year (60 mm).
-Toland Kister, Melissa Rex
12/13 – Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: When we spotted some hooded mergansers paddling in the low tide shallows, we wondered if we’d be lucky enough to get a “merganser grand slam,” something we rarely see. The six hooded mergansers (four drakes, two hens) were followed a short distance downstream by five common mergansers (three hens, two drakes). A few hundred yards later, we found two red-breasted merganser hens (they took some extra time to identify with the scope). The latter were the most uncommon part of the grand slam. (Photo of red-breasted merganser courtesy of Myer Borenstein)
- Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson
12/13 – Manhattan, New York City: We headed outside today and set a killifish trap at our Randall's Island Park Alliance Little Hell Gate Salt Marsh. But, after soaking for four hours, the killie pot was still empty. While we waited, we saw a good number of birds in and around the marsh, including northern mockingbirds, American kestrel, an immature yellow-crowned night heron, four gadwalls, brant, Canada geese, a belted kingfisher, and our resident great blue heron (we have named “Felix”). These were a hopeful sign for our Christmas Bird Count in two days.
- Jackie Wu, Jen Adams
Winter 2019-2020 Natural History Programs
Friday-Saturday, January 10-11, 2020
Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census
Participate in the forty-first annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Census for the Hudson River watershed. We will compile your bald eagle (and golden eagle) sightings from anywhere in the watershed. Our data will then be forwarded to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead agency for data collection. If you come across bald or golden eagles on January 10th and 11th, please e-mail the precise date and location of the sighting to email@example.com. Please indicate if eagles are adult or immature.
We All Live in a Watershed Poster Contest
NYSDEC and the New York Water Environment Association are holding a We All Live in a Watershed poster contest. The poster contest is designed to encourage middle-school students to learn about the watersheds where they live and how to conserve and protect these water resources.
Students may use any type of media, including watercolor, pen and ink, crayon, chalk, and markers to create original hand-drawn artwork. We will choose 14 winning posters and compile them for distribution as part of a 2021 calendar.
All middle school students (Grades 6-8) in New York State public and private schools are eligible to enter the poster contest. One student per poster may enter. We must receive all posters by Friday, January 10, 2020. For more details, please visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/education/32108.html.
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.
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.