A Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program
Compiled by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist
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The Hudson River Almanac helps remind us that every day should be Earth Day. This week we celebrated the incredible biological diversity of the watershed through the eyes, hearts, and adventures of our contributors.
Highlight of the Week
4/23 – Rondout Creek, HRM 92: My mind was on striped bass in mid-morning as I baited up with bloodworms under the Eddyville Bridge. I soon hooked up with what I thought was a small, but very strong, striped bass. As I landed the fish, I could see that it was a trout, a different-looking trout. It had a row of prominent, pointy-tipped teeth that seemed larger than those of a regular brown trout. The fish measured 13-inches and weighed 1 pound,13 ounces. I've been fishing for trout since I was seven, and I had never seen a trout such as this one. (Photo of tiger trout courtesy of American Fisheries Society)
[Tommy had caught a tiger trout, a sterile hybrid of brown trout (Salmo trutta) and brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). The cross itself is unusual in that the parents are members of different genera. Tiger trout were once exclusively stocked in the Great Lakes where the World Record tiger trout (20 pounds,13 ounces) was caught in 1978.
- Tommy Melius
New York State does not stock tiger trout. A decade ago, DEC collected a dozen or more tiger trout in a tributary to the Sawkill (Dutchess County). Both wild brown trout and wild brook trout were also found there, and we theorized that they were naturally hybridizing. Bob Schmidt caught a 16-inch tiger trout in the Sawkill in April 2017. We have also heard of tiger trout in Sandburg Creek, a tributary to the Rondout Creek near Eddyville. Wild brown trout and brook trout are found in Sandburg Creek, so there may be some rare natural hybrids there as well. Michael Flaherty]
Natural History Entries
4/18 – Hudson River Estuary: While checking our fyke net in a Hudson River tributary for our glass eel project, we found hundreds of herring [alewife] eggs in the net. That alone was awesome. Then we saw a caddisfly casing attached to the net comprised of debris and at least 20 herring eggs!
This is our thirteenth year of the Hudson River Estuary Program’s American (glass) Eel Project. Due to the COVID-19 virus, there are a limited number of sampling sites being checked by DEC staff and partners following robust safety protocols. We look forward to increased student and volunteer involvement next spring (2021). (Photo of fyke net courtesy of Chris Bowser)
[Glass eels are one of the juvenile life stages of the American eel. They arrive in the estuary by the millions each spring following a six-month to year-long journey from the greater Sargasso Sea area of the North Atlantic where they were born. “Glass eel” is a colloquial name, owing to their lack of pigment and near transparency. These are juvenile American eels “returning” to the estuaries of their ancestors along the east coast of North America. This is a particularly vulnerable time for them, and little is known about this period in their life history. In anywhere from 12-30 years, depending upon their sex, they will leave the Hudson River watershed for the sea where they will spawn once and then die, or so we think. Tom Lake]
-Chelsea Moore, Adam Haines
4/18 – Columbia County, HRM 113: During some morning snowfall, the backyard birds were very active. Within an hour, I noted five species of woodpeckers: downy, hairy, red-bellied, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and northern flicker. If an errant pileated had flown through my yard, it would have been perfect! [Woodpecker Grand Slam!]
- Bob Schmidt
4/18 – Dutchess County, HRM 66: I spotted blooming red trillium in Pawling today for the first time this spring. I had never noticed these flowers before and, true to what I had read, while talking loudly about the flowers on my cellphone, a white-tailed deer nearly walked right into me heading toward the flowers. They must be delicious, for that doe did not even acknowledge me standing between her and the flowers.
There were maybe a dozen red trillium among some mossy rocks on a hillside. Among them were one or two white flowers of blood root. (Photo of red trillium courtesy of Nicole Graf)
- Nicole Graf
4/18 – Town of Poughkeepsie: We counted two little fuzzy gray heads in bald eagle nest NY372. It was heartening to see a successful brood for a nest that has had a troubled history.
- Brenda Miller, John Badura
4/18 – Town of Wappinger: It was a daunting day for the nestling in bald eagle nest NY459. With the air temperature in the 30s and snow flurries, it was also an anomalous day for the third week of April. One of the adults came to the nest with a small fish, possibly a white perch. The other adult was huddled with the nestling, a warm body and a covering wing, a necessity when eaglets are very young and cannot regulate their body temperature.
- Tom Lake
4/18 – Manhattan, HRM 2.5: We live on the 18th floor, a quarter mile east of the Hudson River on the corner of 10th Avenue and 23rd Street (our view is west down 23rd Street). We are so close to Hudson River Park that the flood line for Hurricane Sandy (2012) came right up to our front door.
This morning, on the terrace one floor down, we saw a falcon, an American kestrel. I knew at once that it was a bird of prey because it was busy eating a small bird. I was able to study it with my binoculars. A lot of raptors were visible today at sunset, in the distance over the river, though too far away to identify. Winds were high, making me wonder whether the birds had ridden the gusts up the coast. It seems that the public COVID-19 health shutdown has created a more peaceful environment for birds. (Photo of American kestrel courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral)
- John Herzfeld
4/19 – Greene County, HRM 112: We went for a walk today at the Ramshorn-Livingston Sanctuary. We put the scope on bald eagle nest NY165 and saw two adults and one nestling.
- Barbara Michelin, Larry Federman
4/19 – Town of Wappinger: NY459 - I had the perfect vantage today to see one of the adults at bald eagle nest NY459 return from the river with a goldfish in its talons. Goldfish seem to be a favorite target of bald eagles, possibly because their brilliant glow is easier to spot, and they tend to frequent inshore shallows.
- Judy Winter
4/19 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 179 migrating raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Broad-winged hawk led with 122. Many of the raptors in the first three hours were moving low over the Hudson River. Two sharp-shinned hawks had full crops. Notable non-migratory birds included a kettle of high-altitude bald eagles (6) with one adult carrying a fish, as well as red-tailed hawk (3), turkey vulture (6), and black vulture (4).
- Ajit I. Antony, Liza Antony, Steve Sachs, Felicia Napier, Kyle Bardwell, Philip Ribolow, Steve Sachs
4/20 – Correction: We used an incorrect photo for last week’s Fish-of-the-Week (cutlip minnow). The correct photo is shown here. (Photo of cutlip minnow courtesy of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)
- Tom Lake
4/20 – Waterford, HRM 158: Frenzied feeding behavior and the tip-top of a fuzzy gray head was all I needed this morning to conclude that we had an eaglet in bald eagle nest NY485.
- Howard Stone
4/20 – Saugerties, HRM 102: We spotted the male harbor seal this evening swimming near the #93 channel marker. This was contiguous Day 260 for the harbor seal at Saugerties.
- Patrick Landewe
4/20 – Town of Esopus, HRM 88: I watched a red-tailed hawk sitting on a too-skinny branch overlooking the cloud-gray river. The branch swayed in the breeze like an old, slow rocking chair. The scene, and the times, reminded me of a John Prine song, “...sitting all alone on a mountain by a river that has no end.” Rest in Peace, John Prine. Bacon and eggs.
[John Prine (1946–2020) was an American country folk singer-songwriter. He was active as a composer, recording artist, and live performer from the early 1970s until his death this month. He was known for an often-humorous style of original music that had elements of protest and social commentary. John Prine’s song "Paradise" is considered an environmental classic. Chris Bowser]
- Chris Bowser
4/20 – Rockland County: While scouting a remote area for a study in the western Hudson Highlands, I stopped at the sound of something ahead rustling in the leaves. A few moments later, four small coyote pups rambled down the hillside in front of me, stopping to randomly bite branches and wrestle each other. They were still at the clumsy puppy stage, with oversized heads and skinny little tails, probably just 5-6 weeks old. I watched for a few minutes and then quietly backed away as they disappeared behind some boulders, still unaware of my presence. (Photo of coyote pups courtesy of Nick Ardizzoni)
- Ed McGowan
4/20 – Bedford, HRM 35: There was very little action today at the great blue heron rookery. All of the dozen nests were occupied with brooding birds. Two nests had standing birds with some egg-tending behavior (perhaps egg-rolling). I am still looking for evidence of hatching.
- Rick Stafford
4/20 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 68 migrating raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Broad-winged hawk led with 53. The initial broad-winged hawks were flying and gliding with very deep flaps (rather than their usual shallow flaps) and with deeply bowed wings. Since they were far to the northeast and across the river, we initially thought they were red-shouldered hawks until we saw a nearby broad-winged hawk flying the same way, and we were enlightened.
- Ajit I. Antony, Liza Antony
4/21 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: To our surprise, the oddly misplaced female summer tanager came into another feeder this evening, this one holding peanut suet. This songbird has been seen here, on and off, spending the winter, since January 15.
- Barbara Michelin
4/21 – Rockland County, HRM 32: I made another visit to the great horned owl nest that I first discovered on March 28. With a better vantage today, and the nestlings being a bit larger, I could now clearly see two fuzzy little owlets.
- Chris Galligan
4/22 – Hudson River Watershed: The 50th anniversary of Earth Day was a time to be happy, a time to be optimistic. But at the same time, for many of us, it is a time to feel disappointed that we seem to have become rather comfortable relegating Earth Day, as a global observation, to a single day. Every day ought to be Earth Day.
The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's seminal work Silent Spring, about the effects of pesticides on wildlife, including bald eagles, is often cited as the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the United States. The first Earth Day indeed increased environmental awareness in America, and in July of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. Earth Day also led to the passage of the Clean Water and Endangered Species acts.
- Tom Lake
4/22 – Minerva, HRM 284: I made a trip to Alligator Pond today not far from my home. The pond drains into Trout Brook, then into the Schroon River, and finally into the Hudson River at Warrensburg (river mile 232). I was there to check on the pond’s population of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) and found four of them scattered across a deadfall basking in the sun.
These seemed just a bit different from other painted turtles, so we contacted, with a photo and our question, retired herpetologist expert Al Breisch. He responded, giving us the traits to identification such as the scutes on the carapace not being in a straight row, and that made them the midland painted turtle subspecies (C. p. marginata). (Photo of midland painted turtles courtesy of Mike Corey)
[There is a natural connection between our concept of Earth Day and turtles that traces its ancestry back to the first of us arriving in North America after the last Ice Age. An enduring theme among many native American cultures has the Earth being created on the back of a turtle. Among the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), whose homeland is the Hudson River watershed, the Turtle Clan is the “Keeper of the Knowledge.” The people of the Turtle Clan are considered a wellspring of information and caretakers of the land. Everything associated with the environment is the responsibility of the Turtle Clan. Tom Lake]
- Mike Corey
4/22 – Town of Wappinger: We found the Hudson River tidewater to be the perfect way to observe Earth Day as an expression of life’s dependence on a healthy planet. We watched an adult bald eagle from nearby nest NY459 dive and collect a small male (buck) American shad, fresh from the sea, and carry it away for its hungry nestlings. This is an important ecological connection: energy generated in the ocean reaching far into the uplands of the watershed. In the forest, shadbush was casting a soft white glow, a testament to a season of renewal.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth
4/22 – Bedford, HRM 35: Everything was still quiet at the great blue heron rookery on Earth Day. The incubation period continued. After ten minutes, a heron flew to a nest, but there was no exchange of nesting duties. The new arrival assumed the relaxed position as a guardian preening its feathers. Herons preen their feathers continuously much like a cat grooming its fur. The presence of a guardian often indicates that hatching has, or will soon, begin.
- Jim Steck
4/22 – Manhattan, New York City: Earth Day duties took me to Randall’s Island today. A beautiful great egret with breeding plumage and green eyes was fishing at the Little Hell Gate Salt Marsh. A perfect Earth Day wildlife sighting. (Photo of great egret courtesy of Jennifer Adams)
[Randall’s Island and Wards Island are conjoined islands, collectively called Randall’s and Wards Islands, in the New York City borough of Manhattan. They are separated from most of Manhattan by the Harlem River, from Queens by the East River and Hell Gate, and from the Bronx by the Bronx Kill. Tom Lake]
- Jennifer Adams
4/23 – Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: It was bitter cold at first light (28 degrees Fahrenheit (F)). Being the end of April, it seemed even colder. The overnight ebb tide had just kept on going out. Strong north winds over the last two days had created a blowout tide. In checking our gear, we found that gravid (with eggs) yellow perch, white perch, and white suckers were ascending Hunter’s Brook. As we had seen in previous springs, many female white perch had eggs, but others, including males, were stuffed with glass eels.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth
4/23 – Rockland County, HRM 32: In late morning, I came upon a beautiful red fox standing on my lawn. It seemed a bit odd to see a fox in a wide-open space. It was not displaying erratic or strange behavior, so I felt comfortable that it was not rabid. When I made a loud noise hoping it would freeze for a photo, the fox immediately broke into a sprint and was gone. (Photo of red fox courtesy of Chris Galligan)
- Chris Galligan
4/24 – Wappinger Creek, HRM 67.5: A second overnight on the water, this one in a cold rain. In response to a series of below-freezing nights, the water in Hunter’s Brook had fallen eight degrees to 48 degrees (F). Fish respond to such drops in water temperature so it was no surprise that for two days, eight tides, we could not detect a single river herring ascending the brook to spawn. Resident species such as yellow and white perch were less affected and passed by in twos and threes.
As first light inched toward dawn, we could hear, back in the forest, “Weet weet weet tsee tsee,” often translated phonetically by the poets among us as, “Sweet sweet sweet, you’re so sweet.” We were listening to at least two yellow warblers. (Photo of yellow warbler courtesy of Deborah Tracy-Kral)
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth
*** Fish of the Week ***
4/24 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 68 is the American shad (Alosa sapidissima) number 25 (of 230) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7.
Many excellent scholarly books have been written on the American shad. However, to best explain their role in Americana, it would take far more than a Fish-of-the-Week in the Hudson River Almanac. Here, we do our best to mention some highlights.
American shad are the largest of the river herrings (Alosa sp.). Their scientific name comes from Latin as Alosa (shad) sapidissima (sapidus = savory). Their native range on the east coast stretches from Labrador south to the Saint John’s River in Florida. Hudson River American shad have been travelers. In addition to their normal migratory range from the estuary south to the Carolinas in winter, their popularity as a food fish prompted their successful transport and stocking by train to California in 1871 where they established a Pacific Coast population.
In the 1990s, the Susquehanna River shad population declined due in part to the construction of the Conowingo Dam (MD). From 1992-1998, The Wyatt Group Environmental Services transported thousands of adult shad, as well as fertilized eggs, from the Hudson and Connecticut rivers to Lancaster (PA) as part of the Susquehanna River American Shad Restoration. The adults would return to the Hudson and Connecticut rivers the next year, but the young-of-year shad would imprint on the Susquehanna as their natal river helping restore that population.
We have been setting and hauling nets in the Hudson River each spring for American shad since we first arrived, perhaps 10,000 years ago. The native shadbush (Amelanchier sp.) has been, at least colloquially on the East Coast, considered a harbinger of their arrival from the sea. Shad are in the Hudson River right now, and spawning will continue through early June. They enter the estuary in waves, each intent on reaching the spawning grounds, a 70-mile reach from Hyde Park to Troy, when the river warms to at least 54 degrees (F). The New York State angling record for shad is 9 pounds, 4 ounces, although larger shad to 12 pounds have been caught by Hudson River commercial shad fishers.
In prehistory, Hudson Valley fishers used weirs and other gear to guide shad into enclosures where they could be netted. The shelf-life for this glut of springtime protein was extended through smoking. Those living near the sea salted their shad. Since Colonial times, American shad have been taken in large numbers with drift, anchor, and stake gill nets, as well as haul seines.
American shad have a well-earned reputation as being a very bony and difficult fish to process–they have 769 bones; humans have 208. Yet, smoked, pickled, and planked (baked) shad have long been springtime favorites in the Hudson Valley. Many commercial shad fishers as well as fish markets use a very intricate and difficult “boning” process, with a thin fillet knife having an edge as keen as a scalpel, to remove many of the floating bones making the fish more palatable. The major attraction with shad, however, has always been its eggs; in historic times shad roe has been a springtime culinary delight.
Amanda Higgs notes that by 1998, DEC had documented the last in the long series of declines of the shad spawning stock. The last over-fishing event drove the stock into recruitment collapse. By 2002, young-of-year indices for American shad (a measure of spawning success, productivity) bottomed out, falling below the allowable threshold set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Mortality had to be drastically reduced or the species could become extirpated in the Hudson River. In March 2010, New York State closed all fisheries affecting shad in the Hudson River and marine waters of the state. Given the long history of over-fishing, restoration of this signature Hudson River species may require many years to recover (Hattala and Kahnle 1998, 2015). (Photo of American shad courtesy of Tom Lake)
- Tom Lake
Here are two works of historical fiction (highly recommended) that closely mirror reality. Those who have worked on the springtime river, watching the tides, enduring the cold, wind, and long hours, then setting, hauling, and picking shad nets, will recognize the intense labor of love. Two excellent works of non-fiction are also noted. These books are available at most public libraries. Tom Lake.
- Shad Haul, by Paul Corey (1947)
The story takes place on the Hudson River in Phillipsville (a thinly veiled Cold Spring) and the Phillipsville High School (Haldane High School of the story) in post-World War II Putnam County. Two high school students join as apprentices with a couple of rugged river men to drift their shad nets in the shadow of the Hudson Highlands.
- Shad Run, by Howard Breslin (1955)
Set just six years after the American Revolution (1788), this is a story of remembrances. It tells of a time on the Hudson River in the “Town” of Poughkeepsie when spotters went up on Blue Point (elev. 400-feet) in spring as lookouts for British warships that might come up the river. Drifting down the river at the same time were hand-crafted wooden shad boats working the ebb tide every day with a weather eye for lantern-lit warning signals from Blue Point. Back in Poughkeepsie, fishmongers loaded their wagons and walked the streets selling fresh American shad.
- Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and Their Great Fish Migrations, by John Waldman (2013)
- The Founding Fish, John McPhee (2003)
4/24 – Newburgh, HRM 61: What a delight! This morning we were able to capture an image of mama feeding her three fuzzy eaglets in bald eagle nest NY488. (Photo of bald eagle nestlings courtesy of Dan Tooker)
- Nancy Thomas, Dan Tooker