Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

This week’s Almanac took us through the Vernal Equinox, and to the beginning of Year 31 for the Hudson River Almanac. We were also treated this week to a sighting of a very rare western songbird.

After this week’s edition, there will be a one-week pause in the Hudson River Almanac. We will return with a two-week Almanac on April 12. 

Highlight of the Week

3/16 – Greene County, HRM 110: Tomas Kay and Keith Cronin came upon a Townsend’s solitaire, foraging on holly berries (Ilex sp.) at North-South Lake Campground today. This is the first record of this Western North American species for Greene County, and only the fourth for Region 8 (a regional designation recognized by the New York State Ornithological Association).  
– Adrian Burke, (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

[Townsend’s solitaire is a relative of bluebirds and other thrushes. It is a sleek songbird, a bit smaller than a robin and much slimmer. They are overall plain medium-gray with a short bill, a rather long tail, a noticeable white eye-ring, and buff patches in their wings (eBird). Roger Tory Peterson describes their range as Alaska (breeds in montane coniferous forests; they love juniper berries), northwest Canada, to California, south into Mexico. They are a very rare visitor eastward through the Great Lakes to New England. Their name is in honor of ornithologist John Kirk Townsend (1809-1851). – Tom Lake]

Townsend's solitaire

Townsend’s solitaire – courtesy of Adrian Burke

Natural History Entries

Correction: Last week’s Almanac for 3/13 – Breakneck Ridge – Breakneck Ridge. The photograph accompanying the entry is a wood frog (Rana sylvatica).
– Tom Lake

3/16 – Hudson River Mile (HRM): A common thread for Hudson River Almanac entries is a reference to Hudson River miles. These give context to each entry, i.e., where in the watershed, relative to the main stem of the Hudson River, did the entry occur? For research, navigation, and other purposes, the Hudson River Estuary is generally measured north from the Battery (HRM 0) at the tip of Manhattan in New York City (there is an additional seven miles of estuary from the Battery seaward to the Narrows).

Moving upriver, the George Washington Bridge is at river mile 12, the Tappan Zee Bridge is 28, West Point 53, Kingston 92, Albany 145, and the Federal Dam at Troy, at the head of tidewater, is river mile 153.7. Then we move on to more than half of the Hudson River (167 miles) above tidewater.

From its source in the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains, the Hudson flows approximately 315 miles to the Battery. While cities and bridges make convenient points of reference, river phenomena do not always occur at such neat and tidy intervals.
– Tom Lake

Federal dam at Troy

Federal Dam at Troy – courtesy of NYS Canal Corp.

3/16 – Greene County: An essential rite of spring for me is observing an American woodcock male (Scolopax minor) doing its mating dance. Over the years, this has been a spring ritual with my four grown kids and now with my grandchildren. As soon as the snow melts, we listen at dusk for the buzzing nasal “peent” call of the male woodcock that can be heard at a long distance.

On a recent evening, camera in hand, we went to an open field and hunkered down in the gathering dusk blending with a large rock and a small tree in the middle of a half-acre field. Soon, out of the swampland, fluttered a squat but agile bird landing not fifty feet from us. The bird looks so goofy with its super long beak emerging from its head, which is a no-neck bulge extension of its body.

During the male’s dance, choreographed to attract females, its head and bill stays stationary as the plump body moves forward and back to rocking dance steps. This bird immediately began its waggle dance punctuated by a periodic loud buzzzz. At about three-minute intervals, it fluttered up in spiraling circles, often 200 feet in the air, making a twittering sound generated by notches in its wings. The bird then silently glided down near its original location. The male repeated the dance moves until it was completely dark (we hoped that we had not scared away any female suitors).

Night photography is notoriously difficult, but I managed several photos that captured this bold fellow who completely ignored my camera flash. My best photo showed its bill opening in an outward curve as the buzzing call was generated. I really enjoyed this year’s woodcock encounter, perhaps another kind of March madness.   
– Mario Meier

American woodcock

American woodcock (Scolopax minor) – courtesy of Mario Meier

3/16 – Esopus Meadows, HRM 87: I visited the Esopus Meadows Preserve this afternoon. There were no birds in sight or sound and only a few early signs of spring. The willows were budding. The wash line from last week’s flooding event was evident well up above the gravel walkway. Scattered along the greening grass, I spotted the cornflower blue of bird’s-eye speedwell (Veronica persica), native to Eurasia, so small and delicate among the grasses and scattered leaves. All welcome signs that spring was on its way! 
– Nancy Beard  

Bird's-eye speedwell

Bird’s-eye speedwell (Veronica Persica) – courtesy of Nancy Beard

3/16 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted seven northward bound raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, and sharp-shinned hawk were tri-high counts with two each. Our seventh raptor, an osprey, was calling as it came in below the summit level. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 158.
– Tom Fiore

3/17– Essex County, HRM 284: I heard my first brown creeper of the season in Minerva. That sound is light, sweet, and unmistakable. The creeper came along with red-winged blackbirds, American robins, and northbound geese, all signs of spring.
– Mike Corey

Brown creeper

Brown creeper – courtesy of Gary Soper

3/17 – Orange County, HRM 41: Referencing field guides and from my own personal experience, ring-necked ducks do not show off their namesake [ring-neck] very often. Even today, when I came upon a drake ring-neck at the Edgar A. Mearns 62-acre, 6½ Station Road Marshlands Sanctuary in Goshen this morning, I did not take notice of it. But, when I later reviewed my photos, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I had never seen a maroon-brown neck-ring this distinctive. I’m not sure if this was the effect of the lighting condition, or if it was this individual’s current plumage.
– Matt Zeitler

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck – courtesy of Matt Zeitler

3/18 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 25 northward bound raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Cooper’s hawk was high count with five. Bald eagle and red-shouldered hawk were next with four each. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 21.
– Tom Fiore

3/18 – Hudson River Watershed: Shortly after arriving at the tail end of winter, wood ducks begin looking for nesting sites near wooded swamps, freshwater marshes, streams, and beaver ponds. They nest in artificial nest boxes as well as natural tree cavities, some of which are created by woodpeckers (a good reason not to cut standing snags). Their relatively small size allows them to fit into pileated woodpecker holes, their large eyes help them avoid tree branches as they fly and their strong claws aid in perching on tree limbs. Most often their nest cavities are thirty feet or more above the forest floor and within 50-150 feet of water (although occasionally over a mile away).
– Mary Holland

Wood ducks

Wood ducks – courtesy of Mary Holland

3/18 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, accompanied by a Pace High School 11th grade class from Manhattan, returned at low-tide this morning to our tidemarsh to check our fyke net. Our catch was impressive (380 glass eels) leading us to wonder if we were approaching a peak in our numbers. Complementing our glass eels were two killifish, mummichogs (Fundulus heteroclitus).

The water temperature was 47 degrees Fahrenheit (F), salinity was slightly elevated to 1.2 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.3 parts-per-million (ppm).
– Jason Muller, Katie Lamboy, Christina Edsall, Amy Lienert

3/19 – Hudson River Watershed: The Vernal equinox in March and the Winter Solstice in December are astronomical phenomena, two moments in the year when the sun is exactly above the Equator, day and night are of equal length, and the ecliptic (the sun’s annual pathway) and the celestial equator intersect. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox occurred at 11:06 p.m. EST on March 19, as the sun crossed the celestial equator, going north, extending hours of daylight, and decreasing hours of darkness.
– NOAA

3/19 – Hudson River Watershed: As the Vernal Equinox arrived this evening, our Hudson River Almanac began its 31st year. As a natural history journal, the Almanac seeks to capture the spirit, magic, and science of the Hudson River Watershed from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, 320 miles down to the sea. Each edition of the Almanac generally covers the previous week and is sent as a free e-mail to a distribution of more than 19,000 readers. If you would like to receive the Almanac, e-mail trlake7@nullaol.com.
– Tom Lake

3/19 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh this morning at low tide to check our fyke net. The number of glass eels (39) had fallen since yesterday (it seems we were between pulses of glass eels). Again, today, we had two mummichogs

The water temperature was 47 degrees F, salinity was slightly elevated to 1.5 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.0 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Jordyn Medina, Maria Cecconello, Fran Kenney

3/20 – Hannacroix Creek, HRM 132.5: One of the joys of field biology is that when you’re looking for one thing, it opens doors to so many others. The work day began by installing a glass eel fyke net in Hannacroix Creek with an exceptional group of fellow eel enthusiasts. We were joined by a green frog on the river bank, covered with mud and very still this chilly morning.

Later in the afternoon, 57 miles downriver at Poughkeepsie, we tended to our Fall Kill glass eel fyke net. In addition to over one hundred squirming glass eels, there was a small (60 mm) brown fish, a central mudminnow (Umbra limi), in the cod end of the net. Central mudminnows are not common, and when we do see them, it is generally in tidemarshes.
– Chris Bowser, The Glass Eel Project Volunteers

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

Central mudminnow

Central mudminnow (Umbra limi) – courtesy of Tom Lake

3/20 – Ulster County, HRM 86: I stopped by bald eagle nest NY142 today just missing a food delivery to the nestling(s). The provider may have been the male, now perched proudly in an adjacent tree. He screamed on occasion and, at one point, lifted off and flew over a ridge. The presumed female did the fish processing, ripping, tearing, and feeding young whose heads did not appear over nest’s rim. When the flurry of activity ended, it gave a taste that all was well at NY142.
– Mario Meier

[Mario Meier may be the most conscientious naturalist I know. He knows all the trappings of ethical birding. While some aspects of ethical bird watching are instinctive, much is learned by watching others and applying common sense. Frequently, however, poor birding habits, even blatant intrusion, comes as the result of misunderstanding, a lack of knowledge, or even the law. 

New York State law states that it is illegal to “take” a bald eagle. The definition of “take” includes to “disturb, harass, worry, collect or kill,” meaning any approach resulting in a significant disturbance such as abandonment of a perch, roost, or nest, could constitute a take. While the bald eagle has been off the market since the Colonial Dutch shared recipes, today’s “take,” in any manner, is illegal. – Tom Lake]

3/20 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, with assistance from the EELS Team of Yonkers High School Students, returned to our tidemarsh this morning at low tide to check our fyke net. Our catch nearly mirrored yesterday (37 glass eels). The water temperature was 48 degrees F, salinity was 2.6 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 10.9 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Fiona Goodman

3/20 – Hudson River Watershed: Historically, black bears begin emerging from their winter dens in April. However, over the past few years they have been active earlier and earlier. This year they have been spotted throughout the northeast since the beginning of March. Males awaken before females; females with cubs are the last to emerge.

After living off stored fat for several months, bears are ravenous shortly after becoming active in the spring. They seek out tender green shoots (often near wetlands), dandelions and other early-appearing flowering plants. If there are bird feeders available, there’s no easier source of protein and black bears will take advantage of this. Excellent ursine [bear] memories mean repeat ursine visits. If you want to decrease the chances of such a visitor this spring, it is suggested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, as well as DEC, that bird feeders be taken down prior to the end of hibernation.
– Mary Holland

[As black bears emerge from their dens, they use their sensitive noses to find food. Human-related food sources such as bird feeders, pet food, and garbage can attract bears and lead to potential conflicts. Feeding bears, even unintentionally, has consequences for entire communities, as well as the bears themselves. To reduce the potential for human-bear conflicts, DEC advises everyone to remove any attractants. People should take down bird feeders and clean up any remaining bird seed by April 1, store garbage inside secure buildings, and feed pets indoors. Sound advice.
– NYSDEC]

Black bear

Black bear – courtesy of Mary Holland

Fish of the Week

3/21 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 261 is the gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus), number 231 (of 237) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail – trlake7@nullaol.com.

The gray triggerfish is our sole representative of Balistidae (triggerfishes) in the Hudson River. While they range from Nova Scotia to Argentina, their center of abundance is coastal Maryland south to Florida and east to Bermuda. Gray triggerfish is considered a temperate marine stray for the estuary, but most other triggerfishes are commonly found in the tropical waters of the southeast and Caribbean.  

Gray triggerfish is a benthic (bottom) species; their body is primarily gray, laterally compressed (thin), and deep-bodied, not unlike a large diner plate standing on its edge. Their trivial name, capriscus is from the Latin caprinus, meaning “of goats,” possibly a small goat. The translation refers to the gray triggerfish’s inscrutable face that, to some, looks like a goat.

They primarily feed on invertebrates, mollusks, and crustaceans, and can reach 25-inches and weigh 14 lb. They get their common name from their spiny dorsal fin that can be used as predator-defense from being swallowed. They have a small mouth with a strong jaw and specialized teeth used to crush and chisel holes in their hard-shelled prey. Fresh or smoked, gray triggerfish, where advisable, are of excellent culinary quality.
– Tom Lake

Gray triggerfish

Gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) – courtesy of Peter Park

3/21 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, again with assistance from the EELS Team of Yonkers High School Students, returned to our tidemarsh this morning at low tide to check our fyke net. Our catch slacked off to 12 glass eels, with one mummichog. The water temperature was 48 degrees F, salinity was 2.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 10.7 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Fiona Goodman

3/22 – Town of Wawayanda, HRM 47: At first light, the air was 22 degrees F—a penetrating, chilling cold. Several hardwoods, buffered by the edge of dense woodland, had served as night roosts for more than a dozen black vultures.

Rather than keep watch on them—they looked like frozen, unmoving duck decoys—I spent a couple of hours perusing the Black Dirt looking for notable wildlife. When I returned, not a single vulture had left, nor had any showed any evidence of even minor movement.

New World vultures (Cathartidae), turkey vultures and black vultures for us, are poor fliers. Once aloft, they soar as well as any raptor, teetering on wide-spread wings. But to escape their night roost, gracefully, they need post-dawn thermals, relatively warm air rising to give them much needed lift.

It was nearly 10:00 a.m. before they began to test the air and, one-by-one, lift off. They are a joy to watch: their ungainly ascent, wings that seem too long, short tails, legs hanging out the back, coal black feathers, and whitish underwing patches that reflect silver in even light. They are an altogether exquisite bird.
– Tom Lake

Black vulture

Black vulture – courtesy of Terry Hardy

3/22 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned at mid-tide to our tidemarsh to check our fyke net. Our glass eel numbers had fallen nearly all the way (3). The water temperature was 47 degrees F, salinity was 2.5 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 11.0 ppm.
– Katie Lamboy, Diane McKay, Caitlin McCabe

[Our highwater stretch for glass eels this season (1,135) cumulatively occurred from 3/13 – 3/18, by far our most abundant stretch. – Jason Muller]

Black beard

Black bears – courtesy of Mary Holland

Spring 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

Appreciating New York’s Rich Diversity of Bats

April 13, 3:00-4:00 p.m.
Desmond Fish Library in Harrison. Free.
Putnam Highlands Audubon Society.

NYSDEC Biologist Ashley Meyer, whose recent field work surveyed wintering bats in abandoned mines of Fahnestock State Park, will describe a variety of bat species, where and how they live, which are endangered, threatened, and why.

Please note that registration is required for this event through the Desmond-Fish Public Library.

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.