Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

There were subtle signs of spring in early February including glass eels in from the sea, bald eagles in full breeding preparation, the matting call of an American woodcock, and at least one day of record warmth.



Highlight of the Week

2/8 – Bear Mountain State, HRM 45: On an after work hike on the south side of Bear Mountain, I heard the repetitive “peent” call of a male woodcock, my first of the year. The location was a bit surprising: the bird was calling from a dense black huckleberry thicket in an undulating, rocky landscape studded with scraggly chestnut oaks. Moments later, with darkness setting in, coyotes began to howl excitedly in the direction I was heading. Though I knew they posed no risk to my well-being, I felt my heart rate go up slightly as I made my way to my vehicle in darkness. – Ed McGowan

[The American woodcock (Scolopax minor), referred to colloquially as the timberdoodle, is a small shorebird species found primarily in upland areas in the eastern half of North America. Woodcocks spend most of their time on the ground in brushy, young-forest habitats, where the bird’s brown, black, and gray plumage provides excellent camouflage (W.G. Sheldon 1971).]

American Woodcock

American woodcock (Scolopax minor) – courtesy of Louis Brodeur


Natural History Entries

2/3 – Hudson River Watershed: The peak of the bobcat breeding season is in February and March. During this time, males breed with as many females as possible. Females actively announce their availability through cheek and body rubbing, as well as marking their territory with urine. Their loud and frequent vocalizations can also be heard.  Courtship includes the male and female bobcat chasing and leaping on each other, which is followed by mating (up to 16 times daily for several days).– Mary Holland

Bobcat

Bobcat – courtesy of Robert Reed

2/3 – Ulster County, HRM 86: Hudson Valley bald eagle nest monitors know they are on the cusp of a new season with egg laying any day now. The NY142 nest in Esopus has at least six inches of new build. The adult pair alighted on the nest edge yesterday, side-by-side, to share a large fish. Today, one adult sat in the nest while its mate perched in the crown of an adjacent white pine. At one point both birds circled high in the sky calling. These were all suggestive behaviors that precede mating, egg laying, and incubation.– Mario Meier

[NY142, in its year seven, has historically been an early-season egg-layer with an average start date of February 5. Mario Meier]

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Mario Meier

2/4 – Town of Poughkeepsie: One of the adult birds from bald eagle nest NY62 made its way flying up the hill from the river with talons-full of straw and other downy nesting material. It was all destined to line the nest’s interior, especially the egg cup where the female will soon deposit her eggs. Nothing says “incubation to come” better. – Bob Rightmyer

[While we have dozens of bald eagle nests in the Hudson Valley, NY62 is among the most thoroughly monitored (Bob Rightmyer) and thus has been a good yardstick for us to measure how, in general, the Hudson Valley eagle community is faring. NY62 is in its 24th year (original female). Over the first 23 years, she has had 29 nestlings. Tom Lake]

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Bob Rightmyer


Fish of the Week

2/5 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 255 is the Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), number 29 (of 234), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com

The Atlantic herring is one of nine herrings (Clupeidae) documented for the Hudson River watershed. These include the anadromous sub-family Alosinae of Hudson River herrings: American shad, hickory shad, alewife, and blueback herring.

The Atlantic herring, a marine species, ranges from the edge of the polar ice in northern Labrador to North Carolina. Traveling in schools of thousands, they are one of the world’s most important commercial species. As plankton-feeders (copepods are a favorite), they can reach 17-inches. Across their range, they spawn from summer into late autumn from Massachusetts Bay down along Cape Cod.

Farther north, where they are known as sea herring, Bigelow and Schroeder’s Fishes of the Gulf of Maine (1957), note that they spawn from fall into winter from the Gulf of Maine to the Nantucket Shoals. Briggs and Waldman (2002) found them common to abundant in Long Island Sound and they are not uncommonly taken in seines in the East River.

They are known from the estuary from occasional catches as far upriver as Indian Point. This February, Jason Muller has caught a dozen or more in his glass eel fyke net at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak. These were likely late-autumn or winter young-of-season fish, spawned in the New York Bight or along the northern New England coast. Recalling previous decades, we did not see Atlantic herring in the estuary, in any numbers, or they were there, and we mistakenly thought they were young-of-year river herring.– Tom Lake

Atlantic herring

Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) – courtesy of Jason Muller

2/5 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Hudson River Park’s River Project staff checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy at Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey. This was a rare week where fish were nearly non-existent in our gear. Our lone catch was a 60 millimeter (mm) skilletfish (Gobiesox strumosus). – Toland Kister

Skilletfish

Skilletfish (Gobiesox strumosus) – courtesy of Jorge Garca

2/6 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to the Beczak Tidemarsh at low tide today to check our fyke net (this was year eleven using a fyke net for glass eels).

We were still looking for our first glass eel since February 1, and we would still be looking, as none showed. However, the net was not empty. We caught a single young-of-the-winter Atlantic herring (20 millimeters). The water temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit (F), the salinity had risen to 5.3 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen was a healthy 12.4 parts per-million (ppm).– Jason Muller, Frances Kenney

[Note: One-inch equals 25.4 millimeters (mm). Tom Lake]

2/7 – Hudson River Watershed: The U.S. Forest Service calls non-native insects the “wildfires of the East,” given the damage they cause to trees. One pest, the emerald ash borer in particular, has killed hundreds of millions of rural and urban ash trees. Strategies including ash tree removal, beetle traps, breeding resistant trees, parasitic wasps and insecticides have all contributed to an effort to control beetle populations once outward signs of damage appears, like yellowing leaves, dying branches, or D-shaped 1/8″ beetle exit holes.

Robert Haight, a Forest Service researcher in Minnesota, has initiated an attempt to identify beetle-infested ash trees before they show these signs of damage by keeping an eye out for woodpecker (and nuthatch) activity. One study found that woodpeckers ate 85% of the emerald ash borer larvae in infested trees. These bark-foraging, insect-eating birds, remove the outermost layers of bark to get to the beetle larvae within the tree. This removal of outer bark leaves splotches of lighter-colored bark that are easy to detect.  Early detection can result in early treatment, both natural and chemical, which bodes well for the survival of the tree.– Mary Holland

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker – courtesy of Terry Hardy

2/7 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to the Beczak Tidemarsh at mid-tide today to check our fyke net. We would have to wait yet another day for our next glass eel. Like yesterday, we did find Atlantic herring, three of them (20-25 mm). The water temperature had fallen to 36 degrees F, the salinity continued to rise at 6.7 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 12.1 ppm.– Jason Muller, Rachel Lynch

2/8 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to the Beczak Tidemarsh at mid-tide today to check our fyke net and were rewarded with two glass eels. The presence of young-of-winter Atlantic herring continued with seven more (15-25 mm). The water temperature was 37 degrees F, the salinity continued to rise at 8.0 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 11.8 ppm. – Jason Muller, Diane McKay, Amy Lienert

[The American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is a fish whose life history is shrouded in mystery. Although they are considered freshwater fish, they are born at sea. Their species evolution is one of survival adaptations — their ancestors survived global cataclysms for millions of years. While at sea, their larval “willow leaf” form (leptocephalus) is translucent, an adaptation to being in a marine environment where invisibility has a selective advantage.

Following a six-month to year-long journey from the greater Sargasso Sea area of the North Atlantic, where they were born, they arrive in the estuary by the millions each spring, “returning” to the estuaries of their ancestors. By now they have metamorphosed into juvenile glass eels acquiring more of an eel countenance. “Glass eel” is a colloquial name owing to their lack of pigment and near transparency.

Ascending the estuary, they begin to develop dark brown pigmentation, an adaptation to being in an estuary where their color matches the bottom of the river. Here they spend much of their lives in the fresh and brackish waters of our upland watershed. 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]

Glass eels

Glass eels (Anguilla rostrata) – courtesy of Tom Lake

2/9 – Rensselaer County, HRM 134, HRM 134: We were at Schodack Island State Park in late-afternoon. Although we had been there before at high tide, we had never seen the river so high. The water was completely covering the access road to the park’s boat launch.– Mary Ellen Frieberg

[In a rendering of the “perfect storm,” today’s high tide, a “spring tide” due to the new moon, and a warm (56 degrees) south wind, all conspired to push the river into the flood plain which, in this instance, was the boat launch and access road. Tom Lake]

2/9 – Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: The air temperature reached 59 degrees F today, a record high for the date. – National Weather Service

2/9 – Putnam County, HRM 46.5: Bald eagle nest NY527 is located on the Hudson River at Manitou in southern Putnam County. I have taken to keeping tabs on the nest as a monitor each season, albeit from across the river and never with a fully unobstructed view.

The pair of adult bald eagles has been sitting on the nest for nearly a week now, their fifth nesting season. I will keep a close eye on them, at least until the trees leaf in April.– Scot Craven

2/9 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to the Beczak Tidemarsh at mid-tide today to check our fyke net. We were rewarded with our first significant number of glass eels (13) this season. Also, in the cod end of our fyke were eight Atlantic herring (20-25 mm) and a huge surprise, a larval (leptocephalus) speckled worm-eel (80 mm). The water temperature was 39 degrees F, the salinity continued to rise at 10.5 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 11.8 ppm.– Jason Muller, Diane McKay, Amy Lienert

[The presence of a speckled worm-eel leptocephalus (Myrophis punctatus), a tropical marine stray, in the lower river is rare enough to warrant some deeper analyses. Next week we will elaborate more fully. Tom Lake]

Speckled worm-eel larvae

Speckled worm-eel larvae (Myrophis punctatus) – courtesy of Bob Schmidt

2/9 – Yonkers, HRM 18: After the morning’s worm-eel excitement, and in the aftermath of some warm days, we decided to try our beach seine for the first time this year. With almost no expectations, we made five hauls. Our low expectations were realized, but we still reveled in the two dime-sized, Beroe’s comb jellies (Beroe cucumis) in the bag. The water temperature was 39 degrees F, the salinity continued to rise at 10.5 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 11.1 ppm. – Jason Muller, Caitlin McCabe

Adirondack High Peaks

Adirondack High Peaks – courtesy of Peter Nye


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” 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

Amphibian Migration & Road Crossings Project – Volunteer Trainings

Join the DEC Hudson River Estuary Program and Cornell University for a virtual training for the Amphibian Migrations & Road Crossings (AM&RC) Project, a community science project based in the Hudson Valley. AM&RC volunteers conduct road surveys on rainy nights in late winter and early spring, to document the annual migrations of forest amphibians to vernal pools for breeding. This training will serve as an introduction to new participants and a refresher for returning volunteers.

Note that our in-person trainings have limited space and priority will be given to volunteers from the Hudson River estuary watershed, especially those who have not attended an in-person program before. If you’re a returning volunteer and need a refresher, please consider joining the virtual session.

Saturday, February 17, 9:30am-12:30pm in Voorheesville (in-person) Register to attendOffered in partnership with Albany County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Thursday, February 22, 5:00pm-7:00pm (virtual) Register for the online training.

Saturday, February 24, 9:30am-12:30pm in New Paltz (in-person) Register to attendOffered in partnership with Wallkill Valley Land Trust.

Training topics will include volunteer protocols, safety measures, data collection and reporting on Survey123, and species identification.

Additional training opportunities are being offered by AM&RC Project Partners who coordinate local volunteers, including in-person viewings of our virtual training on February 22. Visit our Events list for more information.


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

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.

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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, and Wildlife App.