Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

A regular entry for the Vernal Equinox (3/19) will appear in next week’s Almanac. However, the moment of the Equinox, the beginning of Year 31 for the Almanac, occurred in the present week. Recognizing this, we felt it was in the best interest of the Hudson River Almanac and our readers to include its origin story this week.

3/20 – Adirondack High Peaks to the Sea: On the first day of spring (1994) the Hudson’s headwaters were frozen, locked in deep snow and heavy ice. Just 200 miles south, and 1,700 feet lower in elevation, the river was warming, the ice and snow were melting, and spring was on its way (Hudson River Almanac Volume I). – Tom Lake

The NYSDEC Hudson River Almanac is a weekly natural history journal that seeks to capture the spirit, magic, and science of the Hudson River Valley from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, 320 miles to the sea. Year thirty-one began on March 19, 2024.

Each edition of the Almanac covers the previous week and is sent as a free e-mail to a distribution of more than 19,000 readers.

The Almanac is compiled and edited by Tom Lake and produced by the NYSDEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program and its amazing staff, in partnership with hundreds of enthusiasts whose adventures, observations, and sentiments are found in its entries.

With direction from Fran Dunwell, we began on the Vernal Equinox of 1994 and have been an ongoing forum for capturing defining moments of the seasons ever since.– The Almanac Team

Bald eagles

Bald eagles – courtesy of Eileen Stickle

Highlight of the Week

3/14 – Little Stony Point, HRM 55: With virtually no expectations of catching fish, we still took advantage of an uncommonly warm late winter day (73 degrees Fahrenheit) to stretch out our net. On every haul, the seine came in empty. But on a couple of them, we saw tiny, thin, almost transparent wiggles escaping through our tight (3/16-inch) meshes and dissolving into the sand at the waterline. These were two-inch-long “glass eels,” otherwise known as juvenile (yearling) American eels (Anguilla rostrata), fresh in from the sea where they hatched six months ago or more.

Onlookers all agreed we had gotten into a “school” of baby eels. However, as we evaluate their annual migration, it is much more like a series of “pulses,” not schools, heading upriver, heading upstream.– Tom Lake, Charlotte Dinitz, Seth Dinitz

Glass eels

Glass eels (Anguilla rostrata) – courtesy of Tom Lake

Natural History Entries

3/6 – Hudson River Watershed: Bald eagles are protected under federal law by the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act (1940) and by New York State Law as a “Threatened” species. These protections are important because this is the beginning of the season when bald eagles are nesting, either incubating eggs or tending to nestlings, and when they are particularly vulnerable to human disturbance. Even passive approaches on foot are not lost on eagles as they try to focus on their responsibilities. Persons on foot directly approaching eagles are often the most disturbing to them, resulting in “flushing” (leaving) their nest or perch.

The overwhelming type of intrusion is attempts to “get just a little closer,” for perceived optimum views or photographs. Given the quality of optics we have available, from binoculars, to spotting scopes, to cameras, there is no need to get closer. On a get-closer approach, eagles become alert and, if feeling threatened, will bolt.

There are Hudson Valley records of adult bald eagles abandoning nests, unhatched eggs, or even nestlings if human intrusion gets too severe. Instinctively, they know that if they leave rather than confront the threat, they will live to have another breeding season.

Not long ago, we were easily able to count Hudson River bald eagle nests on one hand (fewer than five). However, their numbers have increased impressively, and with human assistance has become one of the greatest wildlife recoveries. For this year’s crop of baby eagles, please use your optics and practice sensible birding.– Tom Lake, Pete Nye

Bald eagles

Bald eagles – courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

3/6 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak along with the EELS Team of Yonkers High School students, returned to our tidemarsh at mid-tide this morning to check our fyke net. Our catch continued to be impressive with 62 glass eels. The water temperature was 43 degrees Fahrenheit (F), the salinity was 4.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.3 parts-per-million (ppm).– Jason Muller, Fiona Goodman Frances Kenney

3/7 – Hudson River Watershed: One of the earliest signs of spring are willow flowers (Salix sp.) peeking their silver heads out of the bud scales that have surrounded and protected them all winter. These soft silver tufts—as well as the plant itself—are named for their resemblance to tiny cats’ paws. The soft, silvery hairs insulate the emerging spike of flowers, or catkin, within a willow flower bud.

Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are both male plants and female plants. A male willow has only male catkins; female willows have only female catkins. The first catkins to emerge in the spring are usually males. The hairs, or “pussies,” that emerge when male willow buds first open trap the heat from the sun and help warm the center of the catkins, where the flowers’ reproductive parts are located. This trapped heat promotes the development of the pollen deep within the hairs. Eventually the reproductive parts of the male willow flowers (stamens) emerge, but until they do, we get to enjoy their silvery fur coats. (Female catkins tend to develop and open a little later than the males, and their silver tufts are more diminutive.)– Mary Holland

Pussy willows

Pussy willow – courtesy of Mary Holland

3/8 – 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 this morning to check our fyke net. We were greeted by the highest count of the season (166 glass eels). Adding to our impressive catch were four young-of-season fishes: Two Atlantic herring, a winter flounder (20 mm), and a summer flounder (20 mm). The water temperature was 42 degrees, the salinity was 5.1 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.6 ppm.– Jason Muller, Caitlin McCabe, Louisa Hausslein, Rónán Selby-Curran, Khadija Diop

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

3/9 – Newcomb, HRM 302: We had nearly nine-inches of new snow overnight. While it was all heavy and wet, it was still lovely, as always.– Charlotte Demers

Snowy river

Snowy river – courtesy of Charlotte Demers

3/9 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: We heard them long before we could see them. Their calls were familiar: Canada geese. When they cleared the trees into the open sky we found their huge undulating V’s. Their winter vacation had ended, and they were headed north toward farmer’s fields and open water.– Phyllis Lake

[We call them “high-flyers” because that is what they do. Skeins of migrating geese, both Canada and snow geese, often miles high, strung out in Vs like huge check-marks in the sky, always in flux, birds constantly changing their position in the geometrics of the sky. It always reminds me of a volleyball game, players switching after every exchange, a new leader at the point. Tom Lake]

Canada geese

Canada geese – courtesy of Ron Dudley

3/10 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 147 northward bound raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today. Red-shouldered hawk was high count with 120. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 23. Other notable non-raptor migrants included red-winged blackbird (well over 500) and common grackle (well over 300), all headed north.– Tom Fiore

3/11 – Ulster County, HRM 86: There had been a hatch at bald eagle nest NY142. I was able to watch one of the adults feeding a nestling. The pair’s eggs were laid on February 18, from which we calculated a hatch of March 6-9, so we were not far off.– Bill Bollinger

3/12 – Dutchess County: My first spring ephemeral, coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), was blooming today. This is a plant in the tribe Senecioneae in the family Asteraceae, native to Europe and parts of western and central Asia. Coltsfoot was probably introduced from its native range to the United States by early European settlers for its medicinal properties.– Deb Tracy-Kral

Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot – courtesy of Deb Tracy Kral

3/12 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 80 northward bound raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Red-shouldered hawk was high count with 73. Our single northern harrier was an adult male. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 40. Among others were Canada geese (many-hundreds with some of their skeins at high altitude), American robin (400+), red-winged blackbird (1,200+), and common grackle (1,600+).-Tom Fiore, Raimund, Miller

3/12 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, along with the EELS Team of Yonkers High School students, returned to our tidemarsh at low tide this morning to check our fyke net. Our glass eel count remained at an impressive early-season level (75). The water temperature was 45 degrees F, salinity was still extremely low at 0.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.5 ppm.– Jason Muller

3/13 – Brockway, HRM 62: Two adult bald eagles were perched in a hardwood on a peninsula that extends into the river at Brockway. This was the former site of bald eagle nest NY377 (2015-2018), since abandoned. The location is quite ideal for a nest, within feet of the river, nearshore shallows, westerly exposure, with several “eagle trees” (easy in-and-out access) to choose from. These two adults could be from a local nest or scouting for one of their own. Today, however, it was rather obvious their focus was on a small gathering of ring-necked ducks just offshore with a single ruddy duck on the periphery. – Tom Lake

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck – courtesy of Matt Zeitler

Fish of the Week

3/13 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 260 is the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), number 98 (of 237), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com

Atlantic salmon is one of ten members of the trout family (Salmonidae) in our watershed. Among the ten species, Atlantic salmon, brook trout, and lake trout are native species. In the watershed, Atlantic salmon is designated as diadromous (generally lives in the sea, reproduces in freshwater). Salmo salar also has a freshwater form called the landlocked salmon. They are a legendary gamefish; the New York State angling record for Atlantic salmon (1997) is 24 lb.15 oz.

Atlantic salmon are one of the most fascinating, mysterious, even mythical members of our Hudson River Watershed list of fishes. Their story has its origin with Henry Hudson’s voyage up the river in September 1609. Hudson’s account of encountering salmon was examined by A. Nelson Cheney, New York Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission, in his The Hudson River as a Salmon Stream presented before the National Fisheries Congress in January 1898.

Cheney’s comments begin with Robert Juet, Master’s Mate of the Halfmoon, who wrote in the ship’s log for September 3, 1609 “So wee weighed and went in and rode in five fathoms [30 feet], oze ground, and saw many Salmons, and Mullets and Rays very great.” For September 15, Juet noted “Wee ran up into the river, twentie leagues, passing by high mountains [Hudson Highlands?]. Wee had a very good depth at thirteene fathoms [78 feet], and great stores of Salmon in the river.” Yet, despite these and other mentions of salmon during the voyage, there is no record of any salmon being taken by the Dutch while the Halfmoon was in the river. Is that a compelling reason to disbelieve Juet saw them?

As a result of what some consider thin evidence of salmon, Juet’s contention has, ever since, ranged from skepticism to total disbelief. In analyzing Juet’s observations, you must wonder if he may have seen other fish, salmon look-a-likes, that were unfamiliar to him, such as striped bass or weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), often referred to as sea trout.

However, there is also some reason to consider that he may have seen Atlantic salmon. Salmo salar is a fall spawner and therefore Hudson and his crew could have seen adult salmon in the river in September. Juet knew Atlantic salmon from his European home waters, yet his assertion has been commonly discounted.

While Cheney contends that the Atlantic salmon never established a native spawning stock in the Hudson River watershed, he does allow for them to show up on occasion as strays, wanderers into the estuary from New England rivers such as the Connecticut. In his Biological Survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed (1937), J.R. Greeley found a 1931 record of a 15 lb. Atlantic salmon caught by a Port Ewen shad fisherman. But were they ever native? Does “native” necessarily require a spawning population.

Words. How do we define native? For most wildlife, we ask a question “Was it here when Europeans arrived in the 16th century. If so, it was native. We must also consider that our knowledge of the relationship between fishes and the river does not extend much further back than the arrival of Europeans. The Hudson River has been open to the sea in various formats since the end of the Ice Age. Across those millennia, dynamic changes in Hudson River geology ecology, and hydrology affecting freshwater flow, saltwater intrusion, salinity, water temperature, overall water chemistry, gradient, and other tidewater vagaries have likely affected choices made by fishes, from long term to short stay. Are those that regularly “wander” in, perhaps only seasonally, get discounted? Like human hunters and gatherers, many fish use the Hudson River as a stopover during their seasonal travels.

Recent appearances include April 2004, when an angler caught an Atlantic Salmon in the tidewater of Rondout Creek, Ulster County. The fish was a female, 27¾” long and weighed 7 lb. Another occurred on May 16, 2020. Chris Palmer and David Fenner were striped bass fishing in the Hudson River just below Newburgh-Beacon Bridge when they netted a fish swimming alongside their boat. They thought it was a brown trout — it measured 21.5-inches-long — so they released it. Chris Palmer sent a photo to Tim Wildman (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection) who immediately recognized the fish as a male Atlantic salmon, hatchery-reared, that passed downstream in the Naugatuck River past Kinneytown Dam, into Long Island Sound, and then made the rather short journey to the Hudson River. The Hudson River has been open to the sea for no less than 10,000 years. And that can make improbables, possible.– Tom Lake

Atlantic salmon

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) – courtesy of Chris Palmer

3/13 – Breakneck Ridge, HRM 57: We hiked the White Trail today on Breakneck Ridge (1,260 ft. elev., also known as Anthony’s Face) in Hudson Highlands State Park. On the trail, a few minutes short of the summit, we came upon a raucous vernal pool. There was a cacophony of high-pitched whistles and peeps, the mating call of the male spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), a small tree frog. We estimated there were well over 100 of them competing for notice from female peepers.– Charlotte Dinitz, Silvia Kahley

Spring peeper

Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) – courtesy of Charlotte Dinitz

3/13 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh at high tide this morning to check our fyke net. We found a new season high count of 294 glass eels. The water temperature was 44 degrees F, salinity was still extremely low at 0.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.4 ppm.– Jason Muller, Jordyn Medina

3/14 – Saratoga Lake, HRM182: A nice male canvasback was viewable from Brown’s Beach, mixed with a small group of scaup (Aythya sp.) and common goldeneyes. Also in the mix was a single common loon. A much larger raft, probably well over 1000 individuals, was sitting way, way out in the middle of the lake. Even with a scope, it was too far, combined with too much heat-shimmer, to make out details. Presumably, this was a bigger version of the scaup and goldeneye flock that has been present on the lake for many ice-free weeks.– Gregg Recer (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

3/14 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted seven northward bound raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Red-shouldered hawk was high count with two. Five others had one each. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 71.– Tom Fiore, Kristine Wallstrom

3/14 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, along with the EELS Team of Yonkers High School Students, returned to our tidemarsh at low tide this morning to check our fyke net. Our salinity has been sitting at an extraordinarily low 0.3 ppt for the last 3 days (readings less than 1.0 are often considered “background noise”).

The very low tide and barely brackish water did not seem to adversely affect our catch as we still managed 267 glass eels. The water temperature was 45 degrees F, salinity was again bottomed out at 0.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.4 ppm.– Jason Muller

3/15– Hudson River Watershed: There are many signs of spring that are announcing themselves to our various senses as we enter the month of March. Some, such as eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus), are waking up from their intermittent winter naps and scurrying in and out of burrows. The smell of boiling sap saturates the air. And the first returning killdeer can be heard as they issue forth their plaintive “killdeer” calls. Our mostly bare, thawing ground this year affords even the earliest of these migrants easy access to earthworms and other invertebrates. Look for these vocal members of the Plover family on mudflats, in mowed fields, on road shoulders and in pastures as they establish their territories this spring.– Marry Holland

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus) – courtesy of Mary Holland

3/15 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 28 northward bound raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today. Red-shouldered hawk was high count with 12. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 53.– Tom Fiore

3/15 – 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 this morning to check our fyke net. We counted another nice haul of glass eels (194) as well as a single mummichog. The water temperature was 45 degrees F, salinity was marginally up to 0.5 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.3 ppm.– Jason Muller, Diane McKay

Fyke net

Fyke net at Furnace Brook – courtesy of Marie Perry

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 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.