As a backdrop to the wildlife this week, we had a rather unremarkable onset of winter at the solstice. Rather remarkable however, was a first-ever, as far as we can tell, Hudson Valley visit by a species of Arctic duck.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
12/18 – Norrie Point, HRM 85: At 9:40 a.m. this morning we had a visit, possibly for the first time ever in this area, from an Arctic duck, a female king eider. Considering the rarity of the bird, Peter Stewart not only made the identification on the fly, but also took photos that were corroborated by other birders. Peter first noticed the reddish-brown duck with a slightly curved bill, flying downriver with a sense of urgency just offshore of the back deck at the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center. It passed Esopus Island, did a U-turn, and then flew back north past the deck where it joined up with four common mergansers heading upriver.
[The king eider (Somateria spectabilis) is a large sea duck that breeds along the far northern reaches of the Arctic. They spend most of the year in coastal marine ecosystems at high latitudes and migrate to the Arctic tundra to breed in June and July. We have no prior records of king eider for Dutchess County (there is one record of a common eider in 1979). It also appears that the bird reached the Ulster County side of the river and that would qualify as a first-ever sighting there as well. Barbara Butler, Steve Chorvas]
- Chris Bowser, Katy Stewart
NATURAL HISTORY ENTRIES
12/16 – Schenectady County, HRM 159: We held our 89th annual Christmas Bird Count today with a preliminary total of 63 species plus two count-week species. This number is a little above our ten-year average (61.8). The highlight was a new-to-the-count, hyphen-laden, black-crowned night-heron found on the Mohawk River in Schenectady. Other not new-to-the-count highlights included snow goose, northern pintail, black vulture, bald eagle, rough-legged hawk, American kestrel, merlin, and common raven.
- Larry Alden, Penny Alden (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
12/16 – Town of New Paltz, HRM 78: We came upon a greater white-fronted goose among 550 Canada geese and two snow geese in the flood plain fields just west of New Paltz in our sector of the Mohonk Lake-Ashokan Reservoir Christmas Bird Count. Among the smaller birds we counted 50 horned larks.
- Jessica Prockup, Wendy Tocci, Deb Weltsch
12/16 – Dutchess County, HRM 73: Our sector for the annual Dutchess County Christmas Bird Count was the Dutchess Rail Trail. In addition to impressive numbers of starlings, robins, bluebirds, and cedar waxwings, we found a great blue heron hiding in a marsh in one of the few areas of open water. [Photo of great blue heron courtesy of Aimee LaBarr.]
- Thomas LaBarr, Aimee LaBarr
12/16 – Town of Poughkeepsie: The male at bald eagle nest NY62 flew out to the river this morning and then settled in a riverside tree with a wriggling channel catfish. The female of the pair perched close by giving him that inscrutable eagle look that reveals nothing. Later, after tacking in the high winds, they perched close together in their nest tree.
- Debbie Lephew, Dana Layton, John Devitt
12/16 – Verplanck, HRM 40.5: The geese were doing their best to keep the skim ice at bay and preserve some open water on the Verplanck clay pond. Along the shoreline, a mixed flock of mallards and black ducks were warming themselves in the rising sunlight. Three great blue herons were mingling with the ducks. I can't recall ever seeing three herons together in such close proximity except at a nest site. A large flock of dark-eyed juncos was foraging in the shoreline brush.
[The clay ponds are an artifact of the brick industry that flourished at Verplanck in the 19th century but died out in the early 20th century. The clay deposits, also an artifact, in this instance of the last Ice Age, were used in kilns as a major ingredient in making bricks. Tom Lake]
- Ed McKay
12/16 – Manhattan, HRM 1: We returned to our research sampling gear in Hudson River Park at The River Project's sampling station on the lighthouse tender Lilac at Pier 25. While our volume of catches has decreased with the winter season approaching, we still found a small juvenile spider crab, an adorable feather blenny 85 millimeters (mm) long, and a beautiful white perch (210 mm).
[Note: one inch = 25.4 millimeters (mm)]
- Siddhartha, Toland, Melissa Rex
12/17 – Albany County, HRM 153-148: Our route for the annual Schenectady Christmas Bird Count included Albany International Airport, much of the Albany Pine Bush, and the adjacent areas of Colonie, Guilderland, and Slingerlands. Highlights included eight black vultures all seen in flight along Krumkill Road, a dark morph rough-legged hawk, two northern harriers at the airport, two common ravens, and a flock of wild turkeys. There was no sign of the previously reported snowy owl at the Albany International Airport.
- Gregg Recer, Denise Hackert-Stoner, Scott Stoner, Cathy Graichen (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
12/17 – Town of Poughkeepsie: There was plenty of activity at bald eagle nest NY62 this morning. In years past, the mated pair would “harvest” grass off the adjacent fields in late winter to line the bottom of their nest, in plenty of time for egg-laying. This season, however, both adults have been bringing grass and other downy material to the nest for a couple of weeks now. We are guessing it is simply enthusiasm.
[12/18 – Columbia County HRM 114-113: My futile attempt to locate a snowy owl or snow geese today brought a few surprises. My guaranteed red-tailed hawk site had no red-tails but a northern harrier swept over the red-tail's territory. A stubble corn field that I thought might attract some snow geese had, at first, five wild turkeys. But that number swelled to more than 50 by the time I drove past the field. And when I looked up to try to count a monster skein of Canada geese, my concentration was interrupted by a Cooper's hawk!
- Sheila Bogart, Carl Bogart
- Mimi Brauch
12/18 – Norrie Point, HRM 85: Katy and Peter Stewart pointed out two common loons in the river at Norrie Point today. The loons made their way steadily north past the pilot boat dock. One of them caught a small fish and they called to each other. They looked beautiful and appeared to be intermediary between summer and winter plumage with white-grey cheeks of winter but still having some of the white summer stippling on their backs. I could see their big set-back feet push off when they dived.
- Chris Bowser
12/19 – Saratoga County, HRM 182-172: In my travels around Saratoga Lake and Stillwater this afternoon, I counted four accipiters: an adult Cooper’s hawk, an adult female sharp-shinned hawk, and a pair of adult Cooper’s hawks that flew over Route 50. Earlier, I saw a northern shrike and an adult bald eagle flying down the river from Wright’s Loop. Overall, my survey encountered 29 species and featured mergansers, including common merganser (430), hooded mergansers (201), and red-breasted mergansers (one drake and three hens).
- Ron Harrower (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
12/19 – Greene County, HRM 135-113: At the tail end of our Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Bird Count, I found a snowy owl perched high up in a tall cottonwood in a grassland parcel just southwest of the Village of Coxsackie. Despite a passing freight train, the bird remained there until after I left. While the snowy owl was the highlight, we also spotted a great-blue heron flying high over the Hudson River heading south. Alan Mapes had another great blue standing on the ice at Vosburgh Cove.
- Rich Guthrie
12/19 – Kowawese, HRM 59: We seined after dark tonight, necessitated by the tide. It was a warm night for mid-December (40s) and the surf was down. At the end of several hauls, we repeatedly found only spottail shiners in the dim glow of our head lamps – our last fish of the season. But perhaps not. It is not uncommon to catch spottail shiners on tiny baited hooks through the ice on frozen tributaries. The river was 39 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and the salinity was almost unmeasurable. [Photo of spottail shiner courtesy of Laura Heady.]
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth
[The spottail shiner is found from the Canadian Maritimes westward to the Northwest Territories of Canada, south through the Midwest and Great Lakes, and along the Atlantic slope, south through the Carolinas. They were first described in scientific terms (Notropis hudsonius) in New York State, specifically the Hudson River (its type site), by DeWitt Clinton in 1824. In addition to being a naturalist, Clinton was a three-time mayor of New York City and the sixth governor of New York State where he was elected for two non-consecutive terms (1817-1822; 1825-1828). Tom Lake]
12/19 – Yonkers, HRM 18: We continued our “off season” seining this afternoon at the Center for the Urban River at Beczak. Results from our six hauls surprised us. The river temperature had fallen to 42 degrees F, which made the three comb jellies as well as four shore shrimp and sand shrimp a bit unexpected. However, the salinity was keeping a steady 12.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt) and that may have answered the question as to why they were here. Local fishes were represented by mummichogs and seasonal fishes by Atlantic silverside. Leaving the best to be mentioned last, we caught ten striped bass (65-105 mm), all likely young-of-the-year (YOY).
- Elisa Caref, Jay Muller
12/20 – Ulster County: DEC Hudson River Fisheries went out on the river over the last two days armed with nets and a side-scan sonar to see what was in the river, the sizes of fish, and species composition on wintering grounds. We used the side-scan sonar and set our nets directly on top of congregations of fish. To our surprise we did not catch very many; the most we caught was eight in a net – shortnose sturgeon and catfish. We worked around slack tide both days. Yesterday the weather was calm and fish were surfacing and jumping all through slack tide when the river was still. Today it was windy and choppy and not as many fish were seen near the surface. Our side-scan sonar revealed hundreds of fish, most of which eluded our nets.
[This story brought to mind a Christmas Eve in the mid-1990s out on the same stretch of river with Everett Nack in his huge jon boat. We were there to catch and tag shortnose sturgeon as part of a stock assessment for Cornell University. We used two gill-nets, each 200-feet long. We let each net soak for 20-30 minutes, hauled them in, tagged and released the fish, then reset the nets. We were on station for seven hours and tagged about 40 shortnose sturgeon. The weather that day was calm but extremely cold. Initially, a thermos of hot coffee warmed us, but in the afternoon we broke out Everett’s homemade dandelion wine and that helped stoke our furnace. The cold was so intense that the spray from the chop froze on our gunwales and our oilskins were coated with ice by the time we headed back to port. Tom Lake]
- Amanda Higgs
12/20 – Norrie Point, HRM 85: The pair of loons I saw yesterday had moved on. In their place was a raft of Canada geese and several pairs of common mergansers dotting the shallows. Several of them spent time swimming with their faces in the water before occasionally diving. They looked like snorkeling tourists at a Caribbean beach.
[The behavior Chris Bowser describes with mergansers is called "trolling with their eyes." It is also a common posture with loons and is beautifully described in John McPhee’s Survival of the Bark Canoe. Loons and mergansers peer beneath the surface looking for fish as they slowly swim along before beginning their dive. Tom Lake]
- Chris Bowser
12/20 – Town of Poughkeepsie: It was a joy to watch the mated pair interact at bald eagle nest NY62 today. Whenever we see them sharing the same spot on a limb or wing-touching, as they did today, our hope grows that this new male and the original female might reestablish the nest this year. The original male at this nest, for 16 years, was hit and killed by a train last February. His replacement has, thus far, been enthusiastically welcomed by the female. [Photo of pair of bald eagles courtesy of Bob Rightmyer.]
- Bob Rightmyer, Mauricette Char Potthast, Dwight Reed
12/21 – Hamilton County, HRM 242: In each of the last two days I have come upon a snowshoe hare. Each one, thoroughly white, raced across State Road 8 in the Town of Wells near the east branch of the Sacandaga River. Yesterday’s showed up in early morning and today’s was late afternoon. I always feel fortunate if I see hare footprints in the snow – they have not been common – but here I had seen two actual hares over a two-day span.
[Large hind feet, long ears, short tail, and typical rabbit shape distinguish the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), the only “rabbit” found in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. From mid-December until late April, their soft dense fur is mainly white with only the black-rimmed ears and dark eyes conspicuous against a background of snow. The summer coat is yellowish to cinnamon brown above; the chin, tail, and lower parts are white to grayish white, and the ears are tipped with black. The seasonal color change, which takes place over a period of about 70 days, is a result of molting, and is largely controlled by day-length. Adirondack Ecological Center]
- Mike Corey
12/21 – Saratoga County, HRM 182: On my Winter Solstice survey of Saratoga Lake this morning I found a huge raft of mergansers far out on the lake including common mergansers (450), hooded mergansers (145), red-breasted mergansers (4), and common loon (4). Mixed in with the mergansers were drake redhead ducks (4). Closer in were rafts of ring-necked ducks (65). Four bald eagles were working the edge of the ice as it had retreated southward in the past few warmer days.
- Ron Harrower (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)
12/21 – Beacon, HRM 61: Winter arrived in midday with a soft touch as we were wading in the river at half flood tide, happy to have our rubber boots (the water was 39 degrees F) Although the air was cold (35 degrees F) with no wind, the sun felt good. Salinity was less than 1.0 ppt. We saw no fish but then the three great blue herons we spotted perched along the shoreline, equally spaced several hundred feet apart, had apparently not seen any either.
[The winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. The winter solstice occurs at the moment when the Earth's tilt away from the sun is at a maximum (23.5 degrees) relative to its orbit. At New York, sunset on the 21st was 4:31 p.m.; sunrise on the 22nd was 7:17 a.m.; sunset on the 22nd was 4:32 p.m. That gave us 14 hours and 46 minutes of night leading into the 22nd, and 9 hours and 15 minutes of daylight. Long night, short day. Tom Lake]
- Tom Lake, B.J. Jackson
12/21 – Manhattan, HRM 1: In the much-appreciated warm sun, we checked our research collection gear in Hudson River Park at The River Project's sampling station on the lighthouse tender Lilac at Pier 25. Our crab pot held only a single fish, but it was a gorgeous tautog, or blackfish (240 mm).
- Siddhartha, Nina Hitchings
12/22 – Hudson Valley: For several years now we have reported on the likelihood that winter incursions of snowy owls represented malnourished and, in fact, starving birds. Biologist Christopher Graham alerted us to some recent studies that strongly suggest this perception is in error. In the Winter 2017 issue of Living Bird magazine, Norman Smith of Massachusetts Audubon, who has banded more than 700 snowy owls, has not experienced a single year where hatch-year owls have showed signs of starvation due to lack of food. Scott Weidensaul, a Project SNOWstorm researcher adds, “It appears that when these owls appear in large numbers in the U.S., it’s due to a bumper crop of young snowy owls during a very good breeding season – not a lack of food.” He does allow, however, that “Some snowy owls are found in starving condition every winter, and they tend to be males.” [Photo of snowy owl courtesy of Peter Schoenberger.]
- Tom Lake
WINTER 2018 NATURAL HISTORY PROGRAMS
Wednesday, January 10, 2018 from 12:00 noon - 1:00 p.m.
- 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; no registration required.
Questions: e-mail Chris Alexander firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, February 24 - 1:00 p.m.
- The Changing Ecology of the Hudson River Flyway
Tom Lake, Hudson River Estuary Program’s Consulting Naturalist
Five River Environmental Education Center, Delmar
Hosted by the Audubon Society of the Capital Region with Southern Adirondack Audubon
For information, e-mail John Loz email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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 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 email@example.com