Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

The Hudson River has always seemed mysterious. The estuary is an overwhelmingly opaque expanse of grayness. What’s beneath, swimming unseen, is largely left to our imagination. This week two uncommon fishes were captured in sampling gear, each seemingly out-of-place. It is easy to day-dream as you look out on the water and wonder, “what else is hiding out there?” Our list of 237 documented species of fish for the Hudson River seems so transitory.

Highlight of the Week

2/14 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh at mid-tide today to check our fyke net. The glass eel numbers virtually exploded (216). While that was very exciting, a 20 millimeter (mm) Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) stole the show. After investigating 30 years of Almanac archives, we discovered this to be only the second winter-caught Atlantic croaker in the Hudson River estuary. The water temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit (F), the salinity was 8.1 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen was 11.8 parts-per-million (ppm).– Jason Muller, Fiona Goodman

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

Atlantic croaker

Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) – courtesy of Tom Lake

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

2/9 – Westchester County, HRM 38.5: As part of the Hudson River Eel Project, we installed our fyke net at Furnace Brook, called “Jamawissa” by the indigenous Leni Lenape, to catch the glass eel migration. We’ve had a net here each spring since 2008. Today we noticed several large rocks with quite a few barnacles on them, both dead and likely alive.

This sparked a good conversation about barnacles, salinity tolerances, and estuaries. Earlier we had been looking at the oyster middens along the main stem shoreline of Oscawana Park, for signs of prehistoric harvest by indigenous communities.– Chris Bowser, Our team from NYSDEC, Teatown Lake, Haverstraw Estuary Field Center, and Ossining High School.

[Bay barnacles (Balanus improvisus) are arthropods in the sub-phylum Crustacea, related to crabs and shrimp. As filter feeders, barnacles use specialized appendages called cirri to gain food from their environment, and as such are commonly found in areas of high-water movement. Their soft bodies are protected by tough, armored plates and anchored tight to the substrate using a powerful glue-like secretion. Further plates form a “door”, or operculum, which the barnacle can open and close to prevent desiccation (drying out). At times of low tide. they can “close up shop” and wait for the tide to come back. Tom Lake]

Bay barnacles

Bay barnacles (Balanus improvisus) – courtesy of Chris Bowser

2/9 – Putnam County, HRM 51: In anticipation of another severe rainstorm silting up the pond below our home in Garrison, we opened a gate valve to prevent the pond from completely silting up with sand and gravel (it is a small pond that empties rapidly).

We watched as the water level dropped revealing the muck and mire. Then we spotted what we took to be a ‘water snake” working its way along the edge of the pond—not a snake but an American eel. It was the first one we had ever seen in Indian Brook, well above the famous falls, way up on a tiny side brook that rises steeply above the main stream bed. How did the eel get there? – John Benjamin

[The American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is a fish whose life history is shrouded in mystery. Although they are considered freshwater fish, they began life at sea. They have been around for many millions of years, and across all that time they have developed many adaptations for survival, including the skills necessary to ascend watersheds via streams and brooks to reach headwaters.

Not long after arriving as immature glass eels from the greater Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic, a six-month to year-long journey, there is a general separation by sex. there is a general separation by sex. Those destined to be female (they do not develop their sexual apparatus until near the time to return to the Sargasso Sea) begin to ascend the watershed. Males, in general, remain in tidewater or low gradient areas. This speculative separation by sex until it is time to spawn is not uncommon with fish (sharks in particular).

Eels make their way upstream using a variety of physical attributes. They wriggle up shallow rifts. gravel beds, and through rapids and shallows with low water/low oxygen. One extraordinary accomplishment is getting up and over dams. We have seen them wriggle up the face of dams if there is even a trickle of drip to keep the surface wet. They use surface tension to gain purchase and their very flexible body to make their way.

Like most fish they use their gills to acquire dissolved oxygen from the water. However, if they need to traverse areas of very low dissolved oxygen, they can, for short periods, absorb atmospheric oxygen through their skin. It is likely that many of these adaptations for survival, especially obtaining oxygen, can be traced to times of regional or global cataclysm when the very existence of life on Earth was challenged.

The net of all this is that your eel was likely a female and destined for the highlands of Putnam County were it will live until its DNA rings a bell that it is time. The eel will then descend Indian Brook to the Hudson, then travel downriver to the sea where it will begin a long journey to where it was hatched. Tom Lake]

American eel

American eel (Anguilla rostrata) – courtesy of Tom Lake

2/10 – Hudson River Watershed: Snakes, being cold-blooded, or ectotherms, must find a spot to spend the winter where their bodies will not freeze. Not being able to dig their own dens, or hibernacula, snakes often rely on natural cavities and the burrows of other animals such as woodchucks and chipmunks that are below the frost line. During winter, typically between October and March, a hundred or more individuals of different species can gather in the same den, slowing down their metabolism and tightly coiling their bodies together to stay warm enough to survive.

Once the earth starts to warm up, snakes emerge. Common garter snakes remain near their winter dens for several days. Males appear first in the spring, sometimes in groups as large as several hundred. Females tend to emerge singly and over a longer period. Garter snake courtship soon follows and can take the form of a writhing mass of bodies called a mating ball, where one female is surrounded by and has her pick of a hundred or more eager males.– Mary Holland

Eastern garter snake

Eastern garter snake – with permission by National Park Service

2/11– Orange County, HRM 41: I joined Kyle Knapp in the Town of Warwick this morning to see a Ross’s goose that was in with some Canada Geese. Later in the morning, we located a large flock of snow geese on Pierce Circle in the Black Dirt Region. I first estimated 2,000 geese, but the longer I stayed, I realized it was probably more than 4,000. I scanned the birds, looking for a Ross’s came up empty. – Matt Zeitler

[Roger Tory Peterson cites the Ross’s goose’s native range as the Pacific northwest and Canada, and wintering in central California. Ross’s geese breed in the Canadian arctic; the exact location was not discovered until 1938. A few turn up in the East in winter, normally with snow geese, with which they hybridize. The first sighting of a Ross’s goose in New York State, where they are considered uncommon to rare, was in1983 at Round Pond, Amenia, in Dutchess County (Stan DeOrsey and Barbara Butler).]

Ross's goose

Ross’s goose – courtesy of Richard Guthrie

2/11 –

In the midst of winterI discovered within me,an invincible summer.– Albert Camus

[French philosopher and author Albert Camus won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature. This stanza from Albert Camus’ poem Within Me, is found in his novel The Stranger (1942). Tom Lake]

2/12 – Yonkers, HRM 18: We found a second larval speckled worm-eel (80 mm) in our fyke net this morning in the Beczak tidemarsh (see 12/9 for the first). – Jason Muller

[I was able to identify both leptocephali from photos as well as from the leptocephali volume of the Fishes of the Western North Atlantic: My conclusion was the speckled worm-eel (Myrophis punctatus). Bob Schmidt]

Speckled worm-eel

Speckled worm-eel (Myrophis punctatus) – courtesy of Jason Muller

2/13 – Waterford, HRM 158: NY485 Two weeks ago I stopped by bald eagle nest NY485 in Peebles Island, but the nest was unoccupied. However, there was one adult perched in a nearby hardwood.

I came back today and saw an adult eagle in the nest that appeared to be rummaging around getting the nest ready for the soon-to-arrive breeding season.– Howard Stoner

2/14 – Greene County: Spotting any owl in day-time is a treat. Today, I was lucky to see a long-eared owl high in a hemlock. This was a magnificent specimen and it gazed down at me with an intense stare from its large glassy yellow and brown eyes. Its long “ears,” the hallmark of the species, are just tufted feathers and, in a stiff breeze, they fold over sideways. Many owl populations are declining due to loss of habitat and long-eared owls have declined 90% since 1970. They are currently estimated at only 140,000 across North America.– Mario Meier

Long-eared owl

Long-eared owl – courtesy of Mario Meier

2/14 – New Hamburg, HRM 67.5: In the early years of bald eagle nest NY62 (now in its 24th season), eagles and nests were very few and widely scattered in the Hudson Valley. When you spotted a pair of adults, you could quite confidently determine what nest they were from.

On a Valentine’s Day dawn at New Hamburg several years ago, we watched two adult bald eagles pirouetting several hundred feet over the river above Diamond Reef, a small, shallow rocky reef in the middle of the river surrounded by deep water channels. This was eagle courtship, an aerial performance of grace and symmetry usually performed by breeding pairs in the days before the late-winter nesting season. We have euphemistically called this “sky dancing.”

They would shadow each other over the ice with loop-de-loops and wing-touches. At the climax of a long acrobatic arc in the sky they would lock talons—one turned on its back in the air, the other mirroring it from above—and go into a free-fall. Seconds before a crash on the hardened river, they’d release in a ritual of trust. Then, falling away in synchronized flight—flap-flap-glide—flaring out over the ice, both wheeling and banking away in perfect form, like an exquisite ballet performance. At times they flew so close to each other that they cast only one shadow as they drifted across the limestone face of Cedarcliff. Their effortless yet powerful wing beats moved them through the air as a single bird, communicating more through instinct than any utterance.– Tom Lake

Bald eagles

Bald eagles – courtesy of John Badura

2/14 – Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: The adults in bald eagle nest NY62 began incubating eggs today. We know this only by their meticulous changeover routine as the adults took turns. In the years we have measured this exchange of duty, females covered the eggs about two-thirds of each day, including the overnight. The span from egg-laying to hatch averages 32-35 days. Given Valentine’s Day as the start, we might expect to see a hatch during March 16-19. – Bob Rightmyer

Bald eagles

Bald eagles courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

2/14 – Manhattan, NYC: On this day in 2014, Manhattan received 22-inches of snow. – National Weather Service

2/14 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Our 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. No fish were caught this week, but we did find ample numbers of sand shrimp and grass shrimp. The river temperature was a cold 39 degrees Fahrenheit, and the salinity was 14.5 ppt. – Zoe Kim

2/15 – Saratoga County, HRM 177.5: Thanks to a report from Lindsey Duvall, I went in search of a northern saw-whet owl at the southern grasslands entrance of the Saratoga National Battlefield (Saratoga National Historical Park). My first attempt two days ago was unsuccessful, but tonight I did hear it from the parking lot on Route 423. I heard the bird calling at a distance behind a thick grove of pines at the far end of a field on the west side of the tour road. – Susan Beaudoin

[Roger Tory Peterson calls the northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) “a very tame little owl.” Often referred to as “pint size,” the northern saw-whet is found across North America in northern forests and western mountains. They prefer areas with conifers and thick understory. They are named for their loud, repetitive whistles that sound like a saw being whetted (sharpened) as well as a harsher, rising screech. Tom Lake].

Saw-whet owl

Saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) – courtesy of Scott Somershoe

Fish of the Week

2/15 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Weeks 150 is the speckled worm-eel (Myrophis punctatus), number 22 (of 236) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail trlake7@nullaol.com.

The Speckled worm-eel is the sole member of the snake eels family (Ophichthidae) in our watershed. They are a benthic, secretive, shallow-water, estuarine species as larvae, found along the Atlantic Coast through the Gulf of Mexico and south to Brazil. They are an oceanic spawner south of the Carolinas and are the only member of its genus (Myrophis) distributed outside the tropics in the Western Atlantic.

The speckled worm eel is pale brown, with a fine peppering of black spots on the back and sides of the body. In their southern range they frequent tidal creeks, brackish estuaries, often over mud and sandy bottoms, and can reach fifteen-inches in length. Adults migrate to the sea to spawn. Usually, only their larvae leptocephali are found inshore. Their larvae appear along the coast between December and May drifting in from offshore spawning areas (McKee 2008).

Myrophis punctatus was added to our Hudson River Fish List by two New York State Museum preserved specimens in their collection of fishes. The first was a 226 mm juvenile caught by bottom trawl in New York Harbor in February 1984 and the second a 176 mm juvenile captured in the Arthur Kill in December 1991. This week’s two larval speckled worm-eels from Yonkers brings the total to four. Although doubling the number sounds impressive, it is still a very small sample. However, the increase has earned Myrophis punctatus a boost in designation from tropical marine stray to permanent/seasonally resident marine species.

For more information on the speckled worm-eel, see Schmidt and Wright (2018): Documentation of Myrophis punctatus (Speckled Worm-Eel) from Marine Water of New York) Northeastern Naturalist, Issue 25/1.– Tom Lake

Speckled worm-eel

Speckled worm-eel (Myrophis punctatus) – courtesy of Jason Muller

2/15 – 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. Our glass eel numbers had dropped considerably (7) but we did catch our first mummichog (40 mm). The water temperature was 38 degrees F, the salinity was 5.4 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 11.7 ppm.– Jason Muller, Diane McKay

[Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus) is an indigenous Algonkian word that loosely translates to “fishes that go in crowds.” Mummichog, a native species, belongs to the killifish family (Fundulidae) and unsurprisingly form large schools. They are prolific predators of mosquito larvae and have been used as a natural bio-control in areas with a high incidence of mosquito-borne infectious diseases. Tom Lake]

[Mummichog]

Mummichog

Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus) – courtesy of Rober Muller

2/16 – Schenectady County, HRM 158:  I came upon a Eurasian green-winged teal today at the Niskayuna Railroad Station at Lions Park. It was in a group of four teal, including an American green-winged drake and two hens. They were located west of the entrance almost all the way down to the Ferry Road Bridge.– David Halm

[The Eurasian teal (Anas crecca), or Eurasian green-winged teal, is a common and widespread duck within its range. They breed in temperate Euro-Siberia and migrate south in winter. They are regularly recorded across North America (U.S. Fish and Wildlife). The Eurasian teal is considered an inter-grade and differ from the American green-winged teal only in plumage (Sibley 2000).

Eurasian teal

Eurasian teal (Anas crecca) – courtesy of Nigel Key

2/16 – Greene County: Over these past winter weeks, the calls of barred owls have echoed through the night woods, phonetically translated as a plaintive “Who-cooks-for-you? Who-cooks-for-you-all?”).

A pair of saw-whet owls down near the swamp lands were also making their insistent, same pitch “too-too-too” whistled notes; one flew down to ten feet overhead to land on a nearby branch in the deep winter dusk. They are tiny owls, at 6-8-inches overall, comparable to an American robin.– Mario Meier

2/16 – 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. Even with a drop in water temperature, our glass eel numbers spiked once again (55). The water temperature was 36 degrees F, the salinity was 5.9 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 12.2 ppm.  – Jason Muller, Caitlin McCabe, Charlotte Reynolds, Louisa Hausslein, Dylan Sandow

[Since the beginning of the Glass Eel Project (2003), we have speculated on the factors that affect the arrival of glass eels from the sea. Seasons have frequently been characterized as a roller-coaster ride—abundance and scarcity—from early March until the end of May. Even those dates have never been steadfast.

The leading contenders have been air temperature, water temperature, precipitation, tributary flow, turbidly, and moon phases. Water temperature has often been offered as the logical motivator, but that has continually proven unsatisfactory. Glass eels have been honing their unique migration journey for many millions of years, making corrections and adaptations to ecological stresses, not the least of which has been the advent of humans. Maybe the best we can do is to describe what we see—glass eels arriving in pulses at their own whim—regardless of our attempt to create and recognize order out of chaos. Tom Lake]

Snow geese

Snow geese – courtesy of Matt Zetler

Winter 2024 Natural History Programs and Events

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 24, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 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. Visit our Events list for more information.

Science Saturday’s at Norrie Point Environmental Education Center

March 9th, 2024 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Come learn the basics of how you can make your own maple syrup. This family-friendly program will demonstrate how to identify a maple tree, tap the tree, and boil the sap down to syrup. There will be samples of syrup for tasting. Afterward, enjoy your own self-guided hike at beautiful Mills Norrie Point State Park.

Upcoming dates:

  • April 6, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.: Vernal Pool Exploration
  • May 4, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.: I Love My Park Day
  • June 8, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.: Get Outdoors Day

Check out the Events page!


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.