Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

The lead story this week was the appearance of an uncommon to rare gull that flaunted its rarity with multiple sightings across several locations, not a common occurrence for one-off rare birds. We also have a bit more Carolina wren commentary following rather comprehensive coverage last week. Then we had a sign of real winter on the river, eagles on ice floes, albeit just a couple of eagles on one tiny ice floe.


Highlight of the Week

1/20 – Newburgh, HRM 61: I came across an unusual gull at the Newburgh waterfront floating docks today. I thought it was a good candidate for glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens), possibly a third-year bird. I sent images to a knowledgeable birder friend, John Haas, and he gave me the thumbs up! This is also a first record for Orange County and just the second for New York State.– Bruce Nott

[The glaucous‑winged gull is a large, stocky, white‑headed gull of the of the Pacific North Coast and Canada. They are found in coastal areas, including beaches, mudflats, and even city parks. Their genus name is from Latin Larus that refers to a gull or other large seabird. The specific glaucescens is Neo‑Latin for “glaucous” from the Ancient Greek, glaukos, denoting the grey color of its wings.

It takes four years for immatures to progress from mostly brown to fully white and gray adult plumage. Identification is further complicated by frequent hybridization with western, herring, and glaucous gulls in various parts of its range. eBird]

Glaucous-winged gull

Photo of glaucous-winged gull courtesy of Ben Nott

Natural History Entries

1/20 – Hudson River Watershed: Tracking a predatory animal gives one great insight into the energy it expends trying to survive. Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are stealthy ambush predators but are not always successful at capturing their prey, and energy is expended whether they are successful or fail.

On average, bobcats consume about 1‑2 pounds of food, or between 800‑1,200 calories, a day to sustain their energy needs. That means that a bobcat needs to capture at least two gray squirrels, or one eastern cottontail or eight eastern meadow voles a day to survive. As a result, they cannot afford too many near misses.– Mary Holland

Bobcat

Photo of bobcat courtesy of Mary Holland

1/20 – Hudson River Estuary: I have undertaken a search for information on the Hudson River tidewater range of the eastern mud snail or mud dog whelk (Ilyanassa obsoleta or Tritia obsoleta). They are a class of Gastropod within the phylum Mollusca.

I am trying to find out what is known about where they occur and their supporting habitat. Being rather intolerant of freshwater, I am hoping to discover how far up the estuary they are found. You may encounter them during your work on the river. From that, I am hoping to hear where you have found them, or even where it looks like they should be, but are not.

Please e-mail your thoughts and comments to russell.l.burke@nullhofstra.edu.

Dr. Russell BurkeProfessor, Dept. of BiologyHofstra University

Eastern mud snail

Photo of Eastern mud snail courtesy of Frank Margiotta

1/20 – Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: Winter was freshened up today with another layer of snow providing an opportunity to check the animal visitor’s register from last night. There was a frieze of tracks along a forsythia hedge; early morning squirrels had been there as well as a red fox. Under the bird feeders the snow had been worked so hard the ground showed through. Best of all, fresh coyote tracks traced a path up the middle of our driveway, through the yard, past the house, past the compost pile, giving it a wide berth, and into the woods. The night shift had been busy. – Christopher Letts

Eastern coyote

Photo of Eastern coyote courtesy of Chris Anderson

1/21 – Fort Edward, HRM 202: Nine birders met up at the Washington County Grasslands area on a surprisingly pleasant day for mid‑January, with clear skies and only a light breeze. Along Blackhouse Road we came upon several male ring-necked pheasants displaying their survival skills. Along the way we found an American Kestrel and had decent looks at a light‑morph rough-legged hawk. Continuing, we found a flock of snow buntings that allowed themselves to be seen and photographed.

Although it was barely 4:00 p.m., the short‑eared owls were already out. At least six owls perched, flew, and interacted with each other and with a northern harrier. It is always fun to hear their yipping calls. In all, we found 18 species, hitting all our winter targets except horned lark. – Naomi Lloyd (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Cub]

1/21 – Beacon, HRM 61: The rare glaucous-winged gull, first spotted yesterday in Newburgh by Bruce Nott, was now across the river on the Beacon waterfront spending the afternoon. This sighting was a first for both Orange and Dutchess counties. – Matt Zeitler

Glaucous-winged gull

Photo of glaucous-winged gull courtesy of Nick Schleissmann

1/21 – Orange County, HRM 47-41: It was too early in the day to search for new and uncommon gulls at the Newburgh waterfront, so I made the rounds in the Black Dirt region of Orange County. While I only found the usuals, the anticipated, the light was nice, and they were amazing and very photogenic. Among them were lovely horned larks, a male northern harrier (“gray ghost”), and two immature bald eagles sharing a hardwood.– Matt Zeitler

[The male northern harrier, or marsh hawk, pale with black wing tips, is a light‑colored raptor that birders often refer to as the “gray ghost.” Tom Lake]

Horned lark

Photo of horned lark courtesy of Matt Zeitler

1/22 – Hudson River Watershed: Carolina wrens, long considered a more southerly species, and have been highly susceptible to severe winters which have markedly decreased their populations in areas where they have expanded their range. As a result, their numbers in the Northeast have historically been low. Nevertheless, Carolina wrens have still been expanding their range northward over the past century with the first Massachusetts nesting reported in 1901. The Carolina wren is now a more common sight in New England and ranges even further north into Ontario. An increase in the number of bird feeding stations in the past half century as well as reforestation of eastern forests have inevitably contributed to the extension of the Carolina wren’s northern range, but scientists feel it is mainly attributable to Global Warming. – Mary Holland

Carolina wren

Photo of Carolina wren courtesy of Mary Holland

Fish of the Week

1/23 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 253 is the chain pickerel (Esox niger), number 88 (of 237) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com.

Chain pickerel is an impressive, arguably handsome, freshwater fish, one of three pike species (Esocidae) documented for our watershed. The others being redfin pickerel (E. americanus americanus) and northern pike (E. lucius). There is also a hybrid Esocidae, the tiger muskellunge (E. lucius x E. masquinongy). Both of our pickerels are native to the watershed. The northern pike goes one step further being designated as periglacial, meaning one of the original few fishes to enter the watershed following the wasting away of the Laurentide Ice Sheet c.15,000 years ago.

They are an apex predator, a term that is most often used to describe the behavior and demeanor of animals such as Tyrannosaurus rex or the great white shark. These pickerel give an overall impression of green, pale yellow, and black, creating a chain-like pattern of narrow black lines on a bright brassy or pale green background. They have very large, long head a rounded snout, a nearly horizontal mouth, and a projecting lower jaw with prominent teeth. They can get to 31-inches-long, but the average angler catch is 24-inches. The New York State angling record is an 8.1 lb. chain pickerel caught in Sullivan County in 1965.

In North America, chain pickerel are found from Nova Scotia to southern Florida, the Gulf Coast west to Louisiana, and the Mississippi River north to Kentucky and Missouri. They have also been widely introduced to the Great Lakes and Canada. Esocids are often associated closely with shallow, weedy places, where they find cover as well as ambush sites. However, they can occasionally be found in deep water lakes, especially in winter (see lakes George and Champlain).

Their Type Site is Philadelphia, PA., likely from the Delaware River. That is where, in 1818, French naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur first described the chain pickerel to science. Chain pickerel’s scientific name is Esox niger. If you root through Greek and old Celtic languages, you eventually will find a translation of Ablack salmon.” Other common names include southern pike, grass pike, jackfish, gunny, and in parts of Florida, “gatorfish,” a bow to their impressive rows of very sharp teeth.

In Canada, the walleye (Percidae, Perches) is also known as “pickerel.” So, if you go to Canada and find pickerel on the menu, it may be an opportunity to sample one of the best-tasting freshwater fishes in the North America.– Tom Lake

Chain pickerel

Photo of chain pickerel courtesy of Connecticut DEP

1/24 – Hudson River Watershed: Dusky salamanders species are notoriously difficult to differentiate in the field. Knowing their preferred habitat helps. In the swamp across from my house, I find northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) in the seeps bordering the swamp. Conversely, I find Allegheny mountain dusky salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) in the headwater streams feeding the swamp, sometimes more than a mile up drainage.

This is not a hard and fast rule, but after surveying the stream for years, I invited Steve Tilley, the world’s leading authority on Allegheny mountain dusky salamander and a retired professor from Smith College in Massachusetts to my site. After sampling more than 150 salamanders in the two habitats, Steve confirmed my hypothesis.

When creating our herp atlas, The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State: Identification, Natural History, and Conservation (2007), we gave volunteers the option of calling them northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus), Allegheny mountain dusky salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus), or just dusky salamander.– Al Breisch, NYSDEC Herpetologist (ret)

[For more Herpetological information of the watershed from Al Breisch see The Snake and the Salamander: Reptiles and Amphibians from Maine to Virginia (2017).]

Dusky salamander

Photo of dusky salamander courtesy of Virginia Herp

1/25 – Norrie Point, HRM 85: In mid-morning from the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center, I spotted two adult bald eagles floating north in the half tide sharing a tiny piece of ice. This may have been the pair from a nearby bald eagle nest (NY142). The birds traveled more than a mile together before we lost sight of them as they drifted around the bend. – Maija Niemisto

[Times have been tough so far this winter for eagles on the ice: They are not a fan of Climate Change. Eagles must expend more energy to hunt from the air. On the ice, they are able to effortlessly drift the current with an eye out for careless waterfowl or fish. Perusing an early Almanac winter entry from a day at Haverstraw Bay, we noted no fewer than 100 bald eagles, almost all wintering birds from points north, on the ice. That was a sign that the rest of the watershed was locked up in ice and the eagles had found the river. Being primarily piscivorous, eagles will migrate south in winter seeking dependably open water for fishing. Tom Lake]

Bald eagles

Photo of bald eagles courtesy of Terry Hardy

1/25 – Hudson River Watershed: Among indigenous peoples, full moons have informative names that are rooted in oral traditions, indigenous memories, and ethnographic accounts.

Among Mohican people, whose ancestral homeland lies within the Hudson River watershed, the January full moon is known as the Cracking Tree Moon, Pathe’naawe mtok keesoox/neepã’ak in the Mohican dialect. The Cracking Tree refers particularly to apples, maples, and willows.

On a cold, dark, winter night, when we are indoors away from the freezing air, we may hear a loud CRACK! This sound is caused by frost cracks in trees. When air temperatures drop below zero, trees will make all kinds of popping and cracking noises, especially if the temperature drops very quickly. A frost cracks occurs when sap inside the tree freezes, causing it to expand in volume. Frost cracks most often occur after very cold, sunny days. – Larry Madden, Stockbridge‑Munsee Band of Mohican Indians

[Tribal translations of full moons pre-date colonization and generally reflect the seasonality of the lunar phase. Moon phases, in fact, are used by indigenous people as measurements of time. Tom Lake]

1/26 – Ulster County, HRM 78: Peter Schoenberger spotted a glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens) in New Paltz early today. The bird was found again this afternoon, in with a mixed flock of gulls, along Route 299 in New Paltz. This is the first Ulster County record and is very likely the same glaucous‑winged gull that was initially observed from the Newburgh waterfront by Bruce Nott on January 20. – Scott Schorvus

Glaucous-winged gull

Photo of glaucous-winged gull courtesy of Peter Schoenberger

Glaucous-winged gull

Photo of glaucous-winged gull courtesy of Matt Zeitler

Winter 2024 Natural History Programs and Events

Women in Science Speaker Series

Please join us for the DEC’s free virtual winter “Women in Science” (PDF) speaker series.

The series provides listeners the opportunity to meet and learn from scientists, community leaders, and environmental educators who work at the intersection of research, education, and environmental and social justice. Review the flier (PDF) for our speaker line up.

Register to attend a session

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@nullaol.com. To subscribe to the Almanac (or to unsubscribe), use the links on DEC’s Hudson River Almanac or DEC Delivers webpages.

Helpful Resources

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.