Hudson River Almanac 4/30/22 – 5/06/22

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Hudson River Almanac
April 30 to May 6, 2022

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

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Everyone seems to have their favorite “sign of Spring.” My favorite, the arrival of the Baltimore oriole from its wintering haunts, occurred, in earnest, this week. Bald eagle nestlings were growing to chicken-size and the moderating weather held promise for their continued well-being. The first young-of-year (YOY) herring, tiny translucent fishes, were emigrating from the tidal tributaries. And a very uncommon, and decidedly gorgeous, raptor made an appearance as the highlight of the week

Highlight of the Week

Swallow-tailed kite5/5 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: In early morning, Delia Engstrom spotted a bird she had never seen before perched in a tree in her front yard. Delia called me and I arrived soon after. It was a beautiful, graceful, swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus), still perched in the tree, grooming itself. I was stunned by its beauty; it was like watching a graceful ballerina. Two blue jays were checking it out and a few crows watched nearby. The kite stayed in the tree for a half-hour before a Cooper’s Hawk appeared and chased it away. (Photo of swallow-tailed kite courtesy of Eileen Stickle)
- Eileen Albro Stickle

[Swallow-tailed Kites are beautiful, graceful, and unmistakable. They are a black-and-white, uniquely shaped raptor with long, narrow wings, and a deeply forked tail and shining blue-gray upper-wings. It is usually seen in flight as it soars and glides while twisting its tail; its wingbeats are deep, fluid flaps. They are found over a variety of wooded habitats with a preference for wetlands around rivers and ponds. Swallow-tailed kites once bred as far north as Minnesota until their population collapsed through the 1930s. However, they have since increased significantly. They now breed from the southeastern United States to eastern Peru and northern Argentina. Most North and Central American breeders winter in South America where the species is resident year-round.

Swallow-tailed kites wander with many recent records to the north, more in spring than late summer. There are now more than 20 New York State records, generally seen for one day. This is the fourth reported swallow-tailed kite sighting for Dutchess County (beginning in 2011) but the first with photos to substantiate the appearance.
- Stan DeOrsey, Barbara Butler, eBird (in part)

Natural History Entries

Common loon4/30 – Minerva, HRM 284: I really like my night hikes with Freya along Route 28N. We hear lots of neat things. Last night we heard a common loon calling from somewhere out on Minerva Lake. We have loons that come back every spring to nest at the lake despite all the human activity on and around the lake. There was also the unmistakable hooting of a barred owl, a call that birders often interpret as “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you, all?” There was also a "barking," that I think was a white-tailed deer out in the woods. I'm familiar with the snorting sound they make, but this was rougher, and kind of eerie. (Photo of common loon courtesy of Mary Holland)
- Mike Corey

Great yellowlegs4/30 – Saratoga County, HRM 173: Seven yellowlegs, mostly greater, and at least 15 common snipe were in clear view at the northwest-Route 4 corner of Wright’s Loop. They were in the same area as a large group of mallards and several green wing teal. (Photo of great yellowlegs courtesy of Matt Zeitler)
- Susan Beaudoin (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

4/30 – Green Island, HRM 153-152: It was mid-morning at the head of tide, and it was also the last of the down tide streaming along. For anglers, in the one-mile run from the federal dam to Hudson Shores Park, it was primarily catch-and-release of American shad, smallmouth bass, and “short” striped bass. The gizzard shad were free. Scores of fishing boats of all ilk were in the river, bow-to-bow, stern-to-stern. It looked like the 1940 flotilla at Dunkirk. Waterfowl were relegated to the margins, including a handsome common loon. Chilled by Adirondack meltwaters, the river was 49 degrees Fahrenheit (F). A hundred miles downriver, the water was ten degrees warmer.
- Tom Lake

4/30 – Highland, HRM 76: We had a fantastic kick off today of the 2022 dragonfly season. Several Uhler's sundragons (Helocordulia uhleri) were found perching on a sunlit path at the John Burroughs Nature Sanctuary. The trail overlooks a gravel and sandy-bottomed forest stream, ideal for the larvae of these habitat specialists. They are quite difficult to track when spotted in flight, as the black-and-orange coloration blends in with the leafy background. This species is listed as S3 (vulnerable) by the New York Natural Heritage program. Historical county records exist but appear to be sparse.
- Frank Beres

Caspian tern4/30 – New Windsor, HRM 59: From Plum Point [Kowawese] I scanned Cornwall Bay this morning and found a distant Caspian tern perched with a handful of ring-billed gulls. In the rising tide, I was not sure if they were clinging to the last of a sandbar, or if they were on a piece of driftwood. I was happy to get the bird, but not thrilled about the distance and no photos. Then, the unthinkable occurred: The birds picked up and flew right to me, dove and caught a small fish, and then proceeded north along the river with a ring-billed gull giving chase. (Photo of caspain tern courtesy of Matt Zeitler)
- Matt Zeitler

5/1 – Waterford, HRM 158: We have an exciting update on bald eagle nest NY485. Today, for the first time, I counted three nestlings. The adults were out of the nest with one sitting on nearby branch and two young ones romping around at one end of the nest. Then I saw some movement at the other end– it was another eaglet. It looked smaller than the others but was up and around. The other adult came in with no food and then left. The young ones where on their own for a couple of hours.
- Howard Stoner

[Their diet of gizzard shad must appeal to them. The "on their own" is not uncommon, especially on warm days. The adults are a very good judge of what is appropriate. Tom Lake]

5/1 – Schenectady County, HRM 157: Spring was really popping with calm blue skies and warm temperatures. We joined a Sunday walking group of 30, young and old, along the Lock 7 bike trail in Niskayuna. We saw more than 50 species of birds, several warblers, a kingfisher, and several ducks including a greater scaup. A greater yellowlegs was wading only a hundred feet away from a lesser yellowlegs. It was nice to see these closely related wading birds in their distinctly different sizes.

A golden eagle flew overhead and landed in a willow on an island in the Mohawk River. Its bronze coloration and massive wingspan differentiated it from an immature bald eagle. Three large carp lolled in the warming shallow water, prime targets for eagles. A painted turtle lay in the sun right beside the trail while hundreds of large and small painted turtles literally stacked up on each other on the swamp logs soaking up the sunshine. What a wondrous time to get out and experience nature.
- Mario Meier

** Fish of the Week **
Rainbow smelt5/1 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 171 is the rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) number 91 (of 236), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7

Rainbow smelt is a pale, slender, elongate fish with a bright silvery lateral stripe. They are the only species of Osmeridae (smelts) in our watershed. It is a native, anadromous fish, in that they live in salt water but return to freshwater to spawn. In historic times, smelt were a plentiful springtime spawner, arriving in March, preceding the river herring and American shad run in from the sea. Their type-site (first described to science) was by Samuel L. Mitchill in New York (1814). They can reach 14 inches in length but are more commonly 7-9.

There is a folk tale that has persisted since colonial times, to wit, there were so many spawning smelt in the tributaries each spring, that one was able to walk across tidal brooks, creeks, and streams “dry shod” on the backs of the fish. As recent as the early 20th century, fabled riverman Henry Gourdine of Ossining would relate a slightly watered-down version. There were so many smelt in tidal creeks, that one did not need a net to catch them. All it took was to lean down and scoop handfuls out of the water into your bucket. That largess spawned a cottage industry along the estuary for more than 100 years, extending more than 100 miles upriver.

It seems their presence, however, was prone to times of abundance and scarcity. J.R. Greeley notes in his Biological Survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed (1937), that “Atlantic” smelt were rare. He notes that in 1936 he found only two smelt, both in Esopus Creek at Saugerties. The local scap-netter told Greeley that he might go weeks with no smelt whatsoever, then catch 700 in one day.

By the beginning of the 21st century, smelt populations were in steep decline. A boreal species, they were favoring New England rivers and streams with steeper gradients and thus marginally cooler water temperatures. Presently, even though a couple show up from time to time, mostly in the East River and New York Harbor, they are considered extirpated in the tidewater reach of the river. As John Waldman comments, when their spawning population is gone, the species is essentially gone as well.

There are native (landlocked) smelt populations in lakes George and Chaplain, remnants of a Late Pleistocene presence that arrived through the Champlain Sea’s connection to the North Atlantic, a connection that also attracted marine mammals such as beluga whales. (Photo of rainbow smelt courtesy of Tom Lake)
- Tom Lake

Bald eagle5/10 – Town of Poughkeepsie: The Soul of NY62 (bald eagle nest monitors) were keeping a daily vigil watching the two, 32-day-old nestlings, that had now exceeded full chicken-size proportions. (Photo of bald eagle courtesy of Debbie Lephew)
- Debbie Lephew

5/2 – Westchester County, HRM 34: It was a cool, rainy day at the great blue heron rookery in Pound Ridge. The rookery is a bit south and east of the better-known Bedford Rookery. I spotted six active nests today with a bird in each, all hunkered down and likely incubating eggs. There may be more nests that are hidden in the evergreens but, with poor visibility, it was not a good day to see them.
- Rick Stafford

5/2 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak made a dozen hauls of our seine today. Most fish seemed to be elsewhere. Our catch included two mummichogs and a single white perch. The water temperature was 53 degrees F, the salinity was 4.3 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen was 10.0 parts-per-million (ppm).
- Jason Muller, Katie Lamboy, Christina Edsall

5/2 – 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. Working with the assistance of our two Harbor School interns, we discovered that our minnow pots had caught two juvenile black sea bass, 7-8 millimeters (mm), in addition to blue mussels, grass shrimp, mud dog whelks, and a very small, white-fingered mud crab.
- Zoe Kim, Juliet, Demolyn

Tiger swallowtail5/3 – Mohawk River, HRM 157: I walked around the Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve this morning looking for new migrants and found five new species for the year, including house wren, marsh wren, ovenbird, American redstart, and Baltimore oriole. Other highlights (mostly migrants) seen or heard included wood duck, American wigeon, osprey, Virginia rail, greater yellowlegs, blue-gray gnatcatcher, ruby-crowned kinglet, gray catbird, yellow-rumped warbler, yellow warbler, northern waterthrush, palm warbler, and rose-breasted grosbeak. I also was pleased to find a tiger swallowtail butterfly sipping minerals on the parking lot surface. (Photo of tiger swallowtail courtesy of John Hershey)
- John Hershey (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

American robin5/3 – Kingston, HRM 92: An American robin (Turdus migratorius) had made a nest atop our rather dry holiday wreath on the side of our house between the main entrance door and the garage, a busy place for human traffic. With my phone held high above what I could see from my eye's perspective, I was able to capture the interior of the nest (so perfectly round and smooth) with its three beautiful robin's-egg-blue eggs nestled inside. (Photo of American robin courtesy of Nancy Beard)
- Nancy Beard

5/3 – Putnam County, HR 46.5: I have been watching two offspring in the Manitou bald eagle nest (NY517) across the River from Fort Montgomery. They are both getting big and dark and occasionally stand on the rim of the nest. While we do not have a precise hatch date for NY517, our best guess is that we may see a fledge between June 1-19.
- Scott Craven

[In response to the Bald Eagle being placed on the Federal Endangered Species List (1967), the NYSDEC created a registry of all known Bald Eagle nests in New York State, both active and “retired.” Presently, there are no fewer than 700 recognized nests in New York. Tom Lake]

5/3 – Bedford, HRM 35: The great blue heron rookery now had the first sign of hatching. An adult heron was perched on the side of a nest, and I saw the head of a hatchling briefly appear. There are very likely other hatchlings in the deep nest out of view. Periodically, its mate will arrive to feed the hatchlings and exchange places. For the next several weeks, there will always be an adult guardian present until the little ones get bigger. There was still incubating taking place in the other six nests and all was quiet.
- Jim Steck

5/3 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak made fourteen hauls of our seine today looking for increased numbers. As it was yesterday, however, most fish seemed to be elsewhere. Our catch consisted of two mummichogs and a young-of-the-season blue crab.

Our glass eel fyke net, that we had set overnight in our tidemarsh, fared much better. Our catch included 28 glass eels, grass shrimp, and one marsh fiddler crab (Minuca pugnax). The water temperature was 53 degrees F, the salinity was 4.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 9.9 ppm.
- Jason Muller, Emma Salada, Katie Lamboy, Christina Edsall, Muhammad Raza

5/4 – Hudson River Tidewater: Standing on a Hudson River beach in May, looking out at the cold, gray water, we ask our students to look upriver as far as they can see, and likewise downriver. Then we suggest that across that three-mile reach of the river many thousands of fish are passing, most heading upriver to spawn. After the snickers and eyerolls, we haul a seine net across a hundred-foot stretch of inshore shallows, beach the net, and discover that we have captured hundreds of fish. We look at the students and suggest, “Do the math.”

This usually sparks a series of student questions, such as how many kinds of fish are in the river? We solicit guesses: “75 (a common guess)”, and others like “Fifty, sixty on a good day.”

Then we offer a number, as far as we know, of 236. Invariably, the immediate follow-up is, “236, is that a good number or a bad number?” We tell them 236 fish species is the appropriate number at this latitude in the North Atlantic. If we travel up the coast, the number will drop. Conversely, if we go south, the number will rise. Water temperature and the associated food web seems to be the motivators—most fishes favor warmer water. Our Hudson River number, 236, is just right.
- Tom Lake

5/4 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Today, our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak seined up three mummichogs (60 mm) and three yearling (class of 2021) striped bass (100 mm). Our glass eel catch in the fyke net, that we had set overnight in our tidemarsh, had declined to just five. Also, in the bag (cod end) was a mummichog and a white-fingered mud crab. The water temperature was 56 degrees F, the salinity was 3.79 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was a healthy 10.51 ppm.
- Jason Muller, Ishika Joshi, Cecilia Goncalves de Azeredo

5/4 – Manhattan, HRM 2: Our Hudson River Park's River Project staff, alongside our two Harbor School interns, checked our sampling and collection gear that we deploy off Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. Our minnow pots caught a single young-of-year black sea bass (55 mm) in addition to several amphipods and a handful of grass shrimp of varying sizes.
- Zoe Kim, Juliet Wiley, Demolyn Ramirez

Snapping turtle5/5 – Albany, HRM 145: Our family visited the Tivoli Lake Preserve near West Hill, one of Albany’s well-kept secrets. It is an island of rough wilderness with abundant wildlife within city limits. We were delighted to see a 14-inch (carapace length) common snapping turtle legging out of the swamp land and heading up over a dam to the lake. Perhaps it was a female depositing her eggs in the dam’s warm gravel but, for whatever reason it chose this warm day to pull out of the wetland to head for “greener” pastures in the warming waters of the lake with its hundreds of sunfish nests. Snapping turtles have that primeval look, armor-plated, and even the exposed skin looks like chainmail. Larger specimens can get up to 85 pounds and live more than 40 years. We steered clear of that hooked beak that always appears ready to do battle. (Photo of snapping turtle courtesy of Mario Meier)
- Mario Meier

5/5 – Little Stony Point, HRM 55: The midday low tide was capping over on the beach from a brisk west wind. The tideline was stacked with deadfalls, logs, and other debris, the residue of early spring storms. Getting our net in the water was a bit of a challenge. The river had warmed to 54 degrees F, and it felt good on our legs. Our expectations this early in the season were minimal and our catch proved us largely prophetic.

Everything we caught was in a single 75-foot haul. As we beached the seine, we knew that we had intercepted a pulse of glass eels heading upriver from the sea. We watched as dozens of tiny (26 mm) translucent eels escape the mesh of our seine and wiggled their way back into the river.

Also in the net were hundreds of young-of-year alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus), river herring (30 mm). Many were able to slip through the 5.0 mm mesh and dance down the wet sand to the water. We wondered if these tiny herring had recently hatched and then emigrated from one of the nearby tributaries such as Moodna Creek or Fishkill Creek.
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

5/5 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak checked our glass eel fyke net that we set in the Beczak tidemarsh. The glass eels were still coming upriver but in far fewer numbers. Today’s count was eleven. Other aquatic life in the net included grass shrimp, amphipods, and a single Atlantic marsh fiddler crab. Our five seine hauls were disappointing except for a yearling striped bass (90 mm). Our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak. The water temperature was 57 degrees F, the salinity was 3.98 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 10.17 ppm.
- Jason Muller, Annie Bingham, Rachel Lynch

Great egret5/6 – Albany, HRM 145: I had a close encounter with a great egret (Ardea alba) today as it paid a short visit to our Washington Park Lake in Albany. They are very striking in their pure white plumage, s-curved neck, black legs, and long rapier-like pointed yellow beak. They are large wading birds, similar in size to its relative the great blue heron. When this one shook, its long feathery plumes (aigrettes) bristled out from its back and tail. The egret holds these plumes up during courtship to impress. It looked impressive standing at the edge of the Phragmites, poised with its reflection in the still water, but this graceful snow-white beauty really dazzles in flight. (Photo of great egret courtesy of Mario Meier)
- Mario Meier

Baltimore oriole5/6 – Town of Wappinger: When pressed to name my visually favorite bird, I like to say the male Baltimore oriole. Certainly, the bald eagle is the most elegant, but the male Baltimore oriole is truly the most beautiful. In midday we saw three males weaving their way through the forest lighting up the shadows. Naturalist Aldo Leopold describes the oriole’s orange flash as “like a burst of fire.”

The Baltimore oriole is one of the most dependable returnees each spring from their winter range in the Southeast, Florida, and along the Gulf Coast. I cannot remember a spring when I was unable to find a Baltimore oriole in the woods during the first week of May. (Photo of baltimore oriole courtesy of Mario Meier)
- Tom Lake

5/6 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak discovered, again today, that the fish seemed to be elsewhere. Five seine hauls we netted just one blue crab (30 mm). Our fyke net, set in our tidemarsh for glass eels, did marginally better. However, other than two glass eels, we only found one marsh fiddler crab. The water temperature was 56 degrees F, the salinity was 3.74 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 9.64 ppm.
- Jason Muller, Emma Salada, Kiki Quiros, Gabrielle Krieger, Ishika Joshi

5/6 – Manhattan, HRM 2: Our Hudson River Park's River Project staff checked our sampling and collection gear that we deploy off Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. We continued to see evidence that black sea bass were faring well along Manhattan’s west side, as our minnow pot caught a juvenile (60 mm). We also saw amphipods, grass shrimp, and a sand shrimp.
- Toland Kister, Zoe Kim

Baltimore oriole photo courtesy of Susan Otto

Spring 2022 Natural History Programs and Events

June 11: Come out fishing for World Fish Migration Day
Join environmental educators for free fishing programs throughout New York Harbor and the lower Hudson River. The events are a celebration of World Fish Migration Day, exploring the creatures of the estuary through seining, angling, and other methods. Check out the website for locations, times, and partners:

Announcing the 2022 Hudson River Striped Bass Cooperative Angler Program
You can share your fishing trip information and help biologists understand and manage our Hudson River striped bass fishery. Here’s how it works: Fill out a logbook provided by us whenever you fish on the Hudson River (by boat or from shore). You can also use our survey123 app and record your trips using a smart phone or computer. Record general location, time, gear used, what you caught (or if you didn’t catch anything) and return the logbook when you are done fishing for the season. You’ll receive an annual newsletter summarizing the information in addition to the latest news regarding regulations and the river. Whether you catch-and-release or take home a keeper, you can be part of the Cooperative Angler Program. Online logbook instructions can be found here:
Join today by contacting: hudsonangler or call 845-256-3009

Hudson River Education

Teachers and students will enjoy our new Hudson River K-12 Unit of Study. This carefully curated group of lesson plans, arranged by topic and/or grade, brings together great learning tools developed by the DEC and dozens of estuary partners:

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.

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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