Hudson River Almanac 2/1/20 – 2/7/20

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Hudson River Almanac
February 1 - February 7, 2020

A Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program
Compiled by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist


A visiting harbor seal marked its amazing six-month semi-residency in the freshwater reach of the upper estuary. We also had one of the visual highlights of winter, when many thousands of bright-white snow geese covered mid-Hudson Valley cornfields. And, it appeared that our out-of-place summer tanager might just stick out the entire winter in Dutchess County.

Highlight of the Week

Snow Geese2/5 – Town of Wawayanda, HRM 47: What a breathtaking display – spread along a half-mile of stubble cornfields on Onion Avenue, were no fewer than 8,000 snow geese (Anser caerulescens). In the gray overcast and dim light of dawn, the field absolutely glowed in a sea of white. From the hills behind, out of sight until they flew overhead, came a wave of another 1,000 snow geese. This army of migrating geese had found a winter stopover from their summer breeding range in the Arctic tundra. If you love snow geese, this was a field of dreams. (Photo of snow geese courtesy of Deborah Tracy Kral)
- Tom Lake

[In 2004, during an archaeological investigation in the next field over from the geese, we recovered evidence of an almost continuous human presence, perhaps only seasonally, beginning more than 5,000 years ago. As I absorbed the incredible sounds and beauty of the many thousands of snow geese, I wondered if those hunters and gatherers passing through here in winters long ago witnessed the same spectacle and experienced the same sense of awe. Tom Lake]

Natural History Entries

Common merganser2/1 – New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: The adults at bald eagle nest NY459 have been seen at the nest working diligently bringing in new sticks and grass. This morning they were perched on a branch next to their nest. There were also a couple of immature bald eagles hanging around the area, probably wintering birds biding their time until spring. Below the nest, in Wappinger Creek, were hens and drakes of both hooded and common mergansers. (Photo of common merganser courtesy of Mauricette Pothaast)
- Mauricette Pothaast

Wood duck2/1 – Englewood, NJ, HRM 14: It was a gray day, and the river was perfectly still as I started an afternoon birding hike along the Shore Trail from Englewood Boat Basin. Early on, all I had were some mallards and a few downy and red-belied woodpeckers. Then, just north of the Undercliff bath house, I spotted a lone duck near the shore in the distance. As I got closer, I saw that it was a gorgeously resplendent drake wood duck paddling around the skeleton of an old dock. It was so special to simply sit and watch it in the stillness. (Photo of wood duck courtesy of Dwight Reed)
- Bob Rancan

*** Fish of the Week ***
Northern pike2/2 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 57 is the northern pike (Esox lucius), number 85 (of 230) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail - trlake7.

[The northern pike, a renowned gamefish, is not only a native species, but is classified as periglacial. They were among the first fishes to move into the watershed as glaciers wasted away and lakes formed at the end of the Ice Age (brook trout and lake trout are among others). They are one of three pikes (Esocidae) in the watershed, along with redfin pickerel, chain pickerel, and one hybrid, the tiger muskellunge (northern pike x muskellunge). The long-standing New York State rod & reel record for northern pike is 46 pounds, 2 ounces, caught in 1940 from Sacandaga Lake. (Photo of northern pike courtesy of John Mueller)
- Tom Lake

2/2 – New Hamburg to Spuyten Duyvil HRM 68-14: One of the best ways to see bald eagles in winter is to take a ride on Metro North. In seasonally cold and frozen winters when the river is nearly iced-over, it is not uncommon to count 54 eagles on this 54-mile ride to Manhattan. Many if not most will be seen out on the ice. The numbers can be impressive when you consider the train-view is only from one side of the car, and then scanning only one side of the river.

However, today’s trip down tidewater was free of ice and nearly without eagles. We counted two adults and one immature, and none were seen south of West Point Military Academy. Wintering eagles demonstrate much fidelity to the Hudson River Valley but will only travel south until they reach consistently open water where they find waterfowl and can catch fish. With eagles so few, the highlight was a small raft of common goldeneye at Fish Island (river mile 44) sheltered in the slipstream below the rocky prominence away from the ebb tide current.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

Black bear2/3 – Gardiner, HRM 73: I caught a midnight black bear in my trail camera today. I thought bears hibernate, and so I was a bit surprised to see the bear out and about. (Photo of black bear courtesy of Karen Meloy Brady)
- Karen Maloy Brady

[Black bears are not true “hibernators,” in that they do not sleep continually throughout the winter. During times of extreme cold weather and scarcity of food, black bears will take periodic naps (torpor) of varying duration. They will arouse (wake up) from time to time for various reasons, many of which are poorly understood. To prepare for a winter of downtime, black bears will feed heavily in autumn, building up fat stores to get them through until spring. Tom Lake]

2/3 – Gardiner, HRM 73: Was spring near, or was winter just arriving? I estimated that more than one thousand mixed blackbirds, featuring common grackles, migrated past us today. This was Day Two, as the same number went by yesterday as well.
- Rebecca Houser, Brian Houser

Golden shiner2/3 – Little Stony Point, HRM 55: The air temperature reached 52 degrees Fahrenheit (F) today and, although we had no expectations, we took our gear to the beach to find fish. The river, chilled by snow and ice melt from upriver, was a frigid 36 degrees F. On our final haul, rinsing the net out as much as using it, we netted a 120 millimeter (mm) golden shiner, in our eyes a beautiful native species. (Photo of golden shiner courtesy of Tom Lake)
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

[Note: one inch = 25.4 millimeters (mm)]

2/3 – Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: After several dreary days, it was so great to see the sun today. As we approached the bridge at Oscawana, we were delighted to spot a beautiful adult bald eagle swooping in circles overhead, its white head and tail feathers sparkling in the sun against the clear blue sky. We eventually lost sight of it as it headed over the high trees.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

Atlantic silverside2/3 – Manhattan, New York City: On another mild winter day, our Randall's Island Park Alliance staff brought our seine to the Harlem River to net a late morning low tide. Our first seine was against the last of the down current, and we caught a total of eight Atlantic silverside (60-80 mm). Our second haul was with the current, but we caught only one silverside (60 mm). Our final haul at slack water produced two sand shrimp. We thought it was a good haul for February. The Harlem River was 42 degrees F, and the salinity was 23.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt). (Photo of Atlantic silverside courtesy of Tom Lake)
- Jackie Wu, Jennifer Adams, Christopher Girgenti

Harbor seal2/4 – Saugerties, HRM 102: A harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), carrying a white rear flipper tag, was originally spotted at the mouth of Esopus Creek, near the Saugerties Lighthouse, by lighthouse keeper Patrick Landewe on August 5. On October 22, the seal was seen with a carp in its mouth and by all accounts, appeared healthy and active. The seal made periodic appearances for 123 days until December 5 when sightings ceased. After viewing photos, Kimberly Durham, of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, guessed that the immature seal was originally stranded in Maine as a dependent pup, rescued, rehabilitated in Mystic, Connecticut and then released.

Today (February 4), Dorothy Varner’s dog was wading in Esopus Creek when a seal popped up. Dorothy captured a video and wondered if the seal came over because it was curious of her dog. While it cannot be certain that this was the same seal first seen on August 5 (the tag was not exposed in the video), it does not take a great leap of faith to believe that it was. If it was the same seal, then the longevity of its visit had now reached 183 days. (Photo of harbor seal courtesy of Patrick Landewe)
- Tom Lake

2/4 – Town of Wawayanda, HRM 47: The spectacle of 5,000 migrating snow geese (Anser caerulescens) foraging in the cornfields along Onion Avenue was soul-stirring. By dusk, the number had risen to 8,000 geese.
- Ken McDermott

Oyster toadfish2/5 – Manhattan, HRM 2: Due to some impending construction at Pier 40 in Hudson River Park, the River Project staff had to relocate a few dozen oyster cages. As they were lifted from the river, a few small fish fell out, and we were able to get them into a small tank for observation. The fish were all about 50 mm and included oyster toadfish, skilletfish and a naked goby. (Photo of oyster toadfish courtesy of Melissa Rex)
- Siddhartha Hayes, Toland Kister, Melissa Rex, Helen Polanco

2/6 – New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: My wife called out to me to take a look at “a very large bird” in a red oak where we had previously seen numerous eagle landings. Our 1.3 square-acre Rabbit Island is surrounded by Hudson River water and tends to be, for adults anyhow, a convenient way station between a nearby nest (NY469) and the hunting grounds on the river.

Today’s very large bird was an immature bald eagle, possibly a wintering bird from points north, lacking the distinctive white head and tail. It is fascinating that eagles seem to prefer a single dead branch that juts out over the river on which to perch and survey their domain. We are fortunate to have such a landing strip on our tiny island and welcome all incoming fliers.
- David Cullen

[Eagles prefer perches that are easy-in and easy-out. If the perch also overlooks water, shallow or deep, that is all the better for them. Tom Lake]

2/7 – Saugerties, HRM 102: What seems to have become our “resident” harbor seal, originally spotted at the mouth of Esopus Creek near the Saugerties Lighthouse by lighthouse keeper Patrick Landewe on August 5, 2019, was seen again this afternoon in the river at the north side of the lighthouse. If this was the same seal, and we believe that it was, then the longevity of its visit had now reached 186 days.
- Patrick Landewe

Bald eagles (NY372)2/7 – Town of Poughkeepsie: Pick any bald eagle nest in the Hudson Valley in early February and you will see the mated pairs perched closer together than they were a month ago, and closer than they will be a month from now. It is the mating season. The pair from bald eagle nest NY372 were sharing the same spot on their perch today. (Photo of bald eagles courtesy of Bob Rightmyer)
- Dana Layton

2/7 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: A female summer tanager (Piranga rubra), first spotted at our seed feeders on January 15, was still there at midday on Day 24. For Dutchess County, there are only three previous records of a summer tanager, and none in winter.
- Melissa Fischer, Stephen Fischer (Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club)

2/7 – Queens, New York City: Whenever I hear the boisterously loud monk parakeets (“Quaker parrots”) flying around, I always raise my head and watch until they disappear over the rooftops. But, hearing and seeing American crows, fish crows, or the occasional cosmopolitan raven, always gets me excited – Corvids are my favorite birds. They are incredibly clever, even intelligent, and seemingly grateful to people who feed them, sometimes offering shiny or colorful “gifts” in return.

Today, a pair of fish crows, revealed their identities with their muted nasal honks, flying unusually low on Steinway Street and Broadway just over a three-story building in Astoria. They flew side-by-side before one of them quickly made four looping back flips in a row followed by four tight ten-foot diameter circles in the sky directly above me. I’ve read about this behavior by the three Corvids, even with magpies, but I never thought I’d witness it. Once, on Breakneck Ridge in the Hudson Highlands, a pair of ravens flew past me flying upside down, with loop-de-loops, and it took my breath away.
- Robert Shapiro

Randall's Island courtesy of Jackie Wu
Winter 2019-2020 Natural History Programs

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 9:00 am - 4:00 pm (Snow Date Friday, April 10, 2020)
Studying Ecosystems of the Tidal Hudson
Norrie Point Environmental Center, Staatsburg, NYThe Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve invites you to attend Research in the Reserve 2020: Participate in an all-day forum on collaborative ecosystem research conducted with the Reserve or at its four tidal wetland sites along 100 miles of the Hudson Estuary.

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.

Useful Links

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.

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