Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

The bald eagle, our nation’s symbol, was removed from the Federal Endangered Species list in 2007. This followed a long period of recovery from habitat loss, the effects of DDT, and a myriad of other factors attributable to human behavior. Their recovery in the Hudson Valley in the last 25 years has been nothing short of miraculous, one of the most successful New York State wildlife recoveries ever. This week we continued to demonstrate how miraculous events can occur, when we take the time, display the empathy, and make the effort on the behalf of wildlife.

Highlight of the Week

3/7 – Croton Point, HRM 35: A yellow-headed blackbird, in a mixed flock of European starlings, red-winged blackbirds, and brown-headed cowbirds (at least 75 birds), was found yesterday morning at Croton Point by Stu Landesberg. The bird was then re-found in the early afternoon by Ari Weiss in the grass in front of the park’s landfill. It was a first for me, and certainly a rare but not unprecedented bird for both Westchester County and Croton Point. It was a nice young male with lots of yellow on its head. The sighting appeared to be a one-day wonder as was seen flying off early morning today and not re-spotted.– Larry Trachtenberg  

[The yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) is a stunning and unmistakable blackbird of western North America. They breed in marshes and winter in large flocks mainly in Mexico. They often mix with other species of blackbird foraging in open areas. In Westchester County their visits, on average, occur less than once per year. – Larry Trachtenberg]

Yellow-headed blackbird

Yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) – courtesy of Thomas Warren

Natural History Entries

3/1 – Ulster County, HRM 82: After a low temperature of 21 degrees Fahrenheit (F) early this morning, I took a walk in the early afternoon in the Mohonk Foothills. I stopped at Kleine Kill Pool and noticed some submerged cattail leaves moving. I suspected a turtle might be pushing on the leaves, so I patiently waited and was rewarded by the appearance of two painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) that began basking on a submerged log. Last year I noted a painted turtle basking on this same log on February 15, but with air temperatures in the mid-60’s. Today there was still a very thin shell of ice along the pool’s margins.– Bob Ottens

Eastern painted turtle

Eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) – courtesy of Bob Ottens

3/1 – Croton River, HRM 34: Tree swallows had returned and it was such a cheery sight. Their graceful flight lifted spirits and promised an early spring. We saw only four this morning but in a few days, there will be dozens.– Christopher Letts, Nancy Letts

Tree swallow

Tree swallow – courtesy of Carol Riddell

3/1 – What follows is a two-part drama of a life lost, and then a life saved, separated by more than eight months.

Looking back to June 2023

6/20 – Town of Poughkeepsie: Bald Eagle nest NY62 had three nestlings, one of which died soon after hatching for reasons unknown. Come June, the remaining two nestlings were ready to fledge, take their first step out of the nest and make their maiden flight.

The first of the two, a male, stepped off into space, a totally new experience. It was nothing special, just a short flight to a nearby tree that he soon left to find his way in the world. The second, a female, fell out of the nest while trying to take her first fight. We found her floundering about, in distress, on the ground under the nest. We later discovered that she had broken some vitally important wing feathers.

6/29 – Town of Poughkeepsie: The female fledgling would not survive without help. Dave LoVerde and Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Greene County were contacted, and a rescue was made on June 29.

During triage, Dave LoVerde discovered that the eagle had damaged flight feathers including “blood feathers” (feathers that have a blood supply flowing through it and, if damaged, can bleed heavily). The bleeding that had attracted flies and, in turn, begot maggots. Her tail feathers were lost and some wing feathers as well.

6/30 – Greene County: For the next 245 days, Dave LoVerde nursed her back to health (not a minor miracle). Following medical procedures, he “just let her be” to recover in her own time. Her tail feathers finally grew back, and she regained her strength. Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has a “flight cage,” 100-foot long, 20-foot high, and 20-foot wide. Frequent visits there helped her gain the physical means and psychological courage to fly, albeit in short, controlled flights. Across the eight months of rehabilitation, Dave LoVerde fed her commercially procured white laboratory rats (Rattus norvegicus domestica).

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Sharon Sainsbury

March 2024

3/1 – Town of Wappinger: By now, Dave LoVerde knew it was time for the eagle to find her place in the world outside of a flight cage. He chose a hilltop with a spectacular view overlooking the Hudson River just two miles from her original nest. In mid-afternoon, sporting her new DEC blue leg band (H75), she was released. She flew off toward a wooded area with incredible energy—her maiden flight in the wild. We were immediately heartened when she landed in a hardwood and posed for a photo. She would do just fine. And in a few weeks, she would discover the Hudson River filling up with river herring, in from the sea.– Tom Lake

[Special thanks must go to The Soul of NY62, a group we formed in 2011 to document, photograph, and generally look after the birds in bald eagle nest NY62. Specifically, Bob Rightmyer, Mauricette Char Potthast, Sharon Sainsbury, Brenda Miller, Debbie Lephew, Deb Bierfeldt, Kate and Mark Courtney, and Deb Tracy-Kral.]

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Debra Tracy-Kral

3/2 – Bear Mountain, HRM 46: For the past two days, a beautiful red morph eastern screech owl has been roosting in an old sugar maple perched at a cavity where a large limb broke off many years ago. Over the course of each day, the owl shifted its orientation to track the sun, like an avian sunflower, facing east in the morning and gradually tracking westward until the sun disappeared behind Bear Mountain. I checked for the owl this morning and it was gone, as was the sun on this drizzly, early March day.– Ed McGowan

Eastern screech owl

Eastern screech owl – courtesy of Tom Cunningham

3/2 – Saw Mill River, HRM 18: We caught eight glass eels (Anguilla rostrata) in our eel mop set in the Saw Mill River. We’ve seen no anomalies yet, i.e., fish or invertebrates.- Joel Rodriguez

[Eel mops are a basketball-sized tangle of polypropylene tentacles placed in the river and found by glass eels to be a very cozy way station on their trip upstream. The mop can be lifted out, shaken, and glass eels will fall into a waiting bucket. The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission literature has the perfect name for the mops: The Medusa device. Medusa was a priestess in Greek mythology. In a fit of anger, the Greek goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus, transformed Medusa’s hair into a head of snakes. As the eel mop waves in the current, it conjures up that image. – Chris Bowser]

3/3 – Minerva, HRM 284: We had our first American robin and red-winged blackbird sightings-sounds today. Unmistakable. I’ve also been hearing the chickadees and tufted titmice and their “spring” calls. There’s some snow around still, maybe a foot out in the woods, and it’s messy to walk through.– Mike Corey

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird – courtesy of RL Hambley

3/3 – Ulster County, HRM 85: The spring eel migration was off to an early and promising beginning, but a slow start at Black Creek. We caught a single gorgeously transparent glass eel in the fyke net today, along with dozens of amphipods (Gammarus sp., or colloquially called “scuds”). But the waters were warming (41 degrees F) and the tennis balls placed on the tops of net-stakes teemed with stoneflies recently transformed from their underwater nymph stages. And if we needed one more spring reminder, a belted kingfisher rattled overhead, perhaps on its way to catch killifish in the creek. – Chris Bowser, Jeremy Laplanche, Betsy Blair, Meg Clark.

Stonefly

Stonefly – courtesy of Chris Bowser

3/3 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 35 northward bound raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Red-shouldered hawk was high count with 24. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 50. Other non-raptor migrants included Canada geese, common raven, and red-winged blackbird.– Tom Fiore

3/3 – Manhattan, HRM 7.5: The air temperature reached 68 degrees F today establishing a new record high for the date. – National Weather Service

3/4 – Saratoga County, HRM 257: It was a banner day at the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve along the Mohawk River. Among the notable waterfowl were redhead and ring-necked ducks, common goldeneye, American wigeon, northern pintail, and hooded merganser.– Joe Krupitza (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Cub)

Redhead duck

Redhead duck – courtesy of Joe Krupitza

3/4 – Hudson River Watershed: Skunks are on the prowl. They avoid the colder spells of winter by slowing down their metabolism and enter a state of torpor inside dens they dig themselves or in abandoned dens (often those of foxes). Females often gather during this time, while males tend to be more solitary. Both have been found cohabiting with opossums and raccoons during the colder months.

In the Northeast, peak breeding season for the striped skunks is March and this is when you are most likely to see skunk trails in the snow as they wander in search of a mate. Skunks travel as much as two-and-a-half miles a night, with males entering the den of a female in estrus and mating with her. While females only mate with one male, males attempt to mate with every female in their territory.– Mary Holland

[I remember one summer September night taking a solo hike on a woodland trail in the Hudson Highlands. With senses at high alert, the forest at night unveils a complex community of life, largely through sounds, smells, and the stinging bites of mosquitoes.

Even on the darkest of nights, on a well-worm trail it is possible to find your way by the feel of the soil, shadows or the absence of shadows, careful footsteps, and a good bit of intuition. Even with that magical navigation, there are times when a good headlamp is a must. As I hiked up a slope, I sensed more than saw movement on the periphery of my head lamp’s narrow cone of light. It was a full-blown striped skunk, two arm lengths away, and going my way. I may have been upwind of its scent, but I think he knew I was there and not a threat. As we neared the crest of the hill, I decided not to challenge the skunk for the lead. – Tom Lake]

Striped skunk

Striped skunk – courtesy of Mary Holland

3/4 – Croton Point, HRM 35: Several dozen brown-headed cowbirds were grazing in the grass near the park entrance. The females were busy foraging. The males, as we might say, “had ideas.” Fully fluffed, puffed up, were handsome in their bright spring chocolate plumage. They strutted after the females. The females ignored the blandishment and concentrated on finding a good meal. For the time being, love was not in the air.– Chris Letts

Brown-headed cowbird

Brown-headed cowbird – courtesy of Jack & Holly Bartholomew

3/5 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh at low tide this morning to check our fyke net. Our week began very promisingly with 36 glass eels and two mummichogs (35-40 mm). The water temperature was 42 degrees F, the salinity was 4.3 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.8 parts-per-million (ppm).– Jason Muller, Frances Kenney

3/5 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Each year around this time, the Hudson River Park’s River Project staff look forward to a special seasonal event that our waterways experience: the plankton bloom. This explosion in plankton population jump starts our local Hudson River aquatic ecosystem after a long, cold winter. In upcoming segments, we will learn about some of the plankton we see in the Hudson River.

Today’s image shows two cyprid stage barnacle larvae (Balanus sp.). Barnacles, like many sessile marine organisms, begin life as planktonic larvae, passing through stages of development before adulthood. For barnacles, these stages are the nauplius stage during which they feed on other plankton in the water column, and the cyprid stage which is non-feeding and spends its time looking for surfaces to settle on. The cyprid stage is the last stage before the barnacles metamorphosize into their sessile adult form. Cyprids show a degree of selectiveness based on surface conditions, presence of surrounding barnacles, and other factors based on species.– Toland Kister

Barnacle larvae

Barnacle larvae (Balanus sp.) – courtesy of Toland Kister

Fish of the Week

3/6 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 259 is the northern stargazer (Astroscopus guttatus), number 205 (of 237), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com.

The northern stargazer, also known as the “electric stargazer,” is the only member of its family (Uranoscopidae) in our watershed. They are a marine species found inshore from New York south to Virginia. In the estuary, they are classified as a temperate marine stray.

Ichthyologist C. Lavett Smith calls the northern stargazer “a bizarre fish.” They have been fashioned by natural selection (chock full of favored traits) in the mode of the oyster toadfish and the goosefish. They have a nearly vertical mouth surrounded by fringed lips. Much of their body mass is in their head and they will eat pretty much whatever they can fit in their huge mouth. As an adult, the northern stargazer can grow to 22-inches and weigh 20 lb.

Stargazers are ambush predators, burying themselves in the sand with their eyes and mouth barely sticking up, aimed skyward, waiting for prey. When something swims by (small fish), the stargazer opens its mouth, creates a vacuum, and inhales.

Their genus name, Astroscopus, translates from Greek: Astro = Star, and Latin scopus = aim, suggesting “aims at the stars,” i.e., stargazer. This is an example of clever nomenclature for common names.

While the northern stargazer is infrequently caught in research and education gear, they do show up at times. On July 14, 2020, at Dobbs Ferry (river mile 23), DEC Region 3 Hudson River Fisheries Unit staff, using a 200 x 10-foot beach seine, caught a young-of-year (30 millimeters) northern stargazer.

Northern stargazers have an organ in their head that delivers an electric charge that can stun prey and ward off predators. They can also produce a noticeable shock to anglers grasping their head to remove a fish hook, or scientists clearing their net. A while ago, Chris Letts and I caught a northern stargazer during a school program at Sleepy Hollow (river mile 28). As we held the fish to show the students, one of us got zapped quite well. Once the pain subsided, we could tell the students loved it. They thought it was part of our act.– Tom Lake

Northern stargazer

Northern stargazer (Astroscopus guttatus) – courtesy of John Monaco

3/7 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: It was a mid-week, mid-afternoon high tide. Following three inches of rain across less than three days, the tidal Wappinger Creek was over its banks, into the flood plain, and the color of coffee-double cream. A strong northwest wind blew across the creek forcing waterfowl to shelter on the leeward side. Among them were 16, mixed-sex, common mergansers. Although the drake common merganser is one of the most beautiful of diving ducks, the hen common merganser is also quite gorgeous. With her fly-away red-feathered head, she always reminds me of Elsa Lanchester in the 1935 movie of Mary Shelley’s “Bride of Frankenstein.” – Tom Lake

Common merganser

Common merganser – courtesy of Jan Nagalski

3/8 – Town of Wappinger: One week ago, after 245 days of rehabilitation, we released an immature female bald eagle banded as H75 (see 3/1). Once away from the grasp of her handler, the bird, flew away in a spirited aerial performance, much of which was likely the joy of being free for the first time in her life.

We know she is out there, but we have been unable to locate her. Her plumage mimics the browns of late-winter foliage; unless she moves, it can be difficult to see her. I saw an immature at Brockway yesterday, just above Beacon (former nest site NY377), but I saw no band. The bird was likely a wintering immature.

If you happen upon her, blue band H75, please let us know.– Tom Lake

Bald eagle

Bald eagle courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

Skunks

Skunks – courtesy of Kristin Winters

Winter 2024 Natural History Programs and Events

Science Saturday’s at Norrie Point Environmental Education Center

Norrie Point Environmental Education Center will be hosting “Science Saturdays”. Events are free and open to the public. Learn more about Science Saturday events.

Upcoming events:

  • 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

Volunteer for the Amphibian Migration & Road Crossing Project

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.

Volunteer for the Hudson River Striped Bass Cooperative Angler Program

Do you fish for striped bass in the Hudson River? Whether you catch-and-release or take home a keeper, you can be part of the Cooperative Angler Program. Share your fishing trip information and help biologists understand and manage our striped bass fishery.

Here’s how it works:

  • Fill out a logbook we provide or record your trips on your smartphone using DEC’s Hudson River online logbook (PDF) whenever you fish on the tidal Hudson River (by boat or on the shore);
  • 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.

Join today! For more information on the angler program and instructions on installing the Survey123 App to access the online logbook, visit Hudson River Cooperative Angler webpage or email hudsonangler@nulldec.ny.gov.

Note: If you primarily fish for striped bass in New York waters south of the George Washington Bridge, the DEC has a separate Striped Bass Cooperative Anglers Program.

Volunteer for the Hudson River Eel Project

We are seeking volunteers to help study eels in streams of the Hudson River estuary! Volunteers check specialized nets for young transparent “glass eels” as they enter freshwater from their spawning grounds over 1,000 miles away in the Atlantic Ocean. Eels are counted, weighed, and released upstream, and environmental conditions are recorded. Sample sites include streams from NYC to near Albany, and all gear is provided.

If you’re interested in participating, email eelproject@nulldec.ny.gov and include where you live and a little bit about yourself, so we can match you with the best nearby site. For more information, visit the Hudson River Eel Project webpage.

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.