Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

The first of our native spring flowers were blooming. Despite the availability of technology to measure springtime, many of us instinctively look to the sky, the forests, and the fields for confirmation, something we have been observing in the watershed for 13,000 years.

Highlight of the Week

3/20 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project staff and interns checked our research gear (pots and traps) today that we deploy at Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey. Recently, fish have been eluding our gear but today we found a tiny (40 millimeters) skilletfish (Gobiesox strumosus) in one of our crab pots.

While the normal retinue of invertebrates was present (mud crabs, mud dog whelks, grass shrimp), a less common organism for our traps was encountered: a sea gooseberry (Pleurobrachia pileus), a species of comb jelly (Ctenophora).
– Avalon Daly, Zoe Kim, Renee Mariner, Brandon Campos

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

[The sea gooseberry (25 mm) is found in open water in the northern Atlantic Ocean from Maine to North Carolina. As a predator, they feed on active swimming prey such as Gammarus sp. Largely a marine species, they are seldom found in estuaries. Tom Lake]

Sea gooseberry

Sea gooseberry (Pleurobrachia pileus) – courtesy of Susan Pike

Natural History Entries

3/22 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted eight northward bound raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Red-shouldered hawk was high count with four. Osprey was next with three. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 112. It was mainly a turkey vulture migration day; they came in batches, not as singles, and oddly there was relatively little activity of local vultures.
– Tom Fiore

3/23 – Town of Poughkeepsie: The new, for 2024, bald eagle nest NY62 is high in a white pine 100-feet off the ground. In recent years, the NY62 nest was in a deciduous tulip tree. When the leaves came out in spring, our observation view became compromised. With a conifer this season, that will not be an issue.

For the first half-hour of today’s visit, well within spotting scope range but far enough away to provide a privacy buffer, there was no sighting of an adult, no activity whatsoever. The nest looked empty, and I was beginning to wonder if the nest had failed.

Then, a huge tell-tale shadow moved past me along the road. It was an adult heading to the nest where it landed. Up popped another white head inside the nest. The two adults poked around for 30 seconds before the second adult took off and flew up the road directly close over my head. It was an 11:00 a.m. changeover of their shared nest duty.
– Tom Lake

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

3/23 – Croton Point, HRM 35: It has been a few years but once again, red-headed woodpeckers are wintering here. At least two, both males, were easily spotted in an oak grove on the north side of the point. In a true sign of spring, Dutchman’s Breeches was blooming along the road to the oak grove.
– Christopher Letts

Red-headed woodpecker

Red-headed woodpecker – courtesy of Jake Dingal

3/23 – Hudson River Watershed: Spring comes very slowly to our watershed. The ancestral Algonkian peoples of the Hudson River watershed used bio-indicators in spring to alert them that it was time to ready the soil, sow their fields, and set their fish weirs. In historic times, up [to] 2010 when commercial shad fishing was halted, fishermen still relied more on the uplands than technology to let them know when the river was ready.

When most of the trees in the forest are yet to leaf out, the soft, hazy white glow of our native shadbush (Amelanchier sp.) blooms. There is an ecological timing between these events: Shadbush blooms when the soil warms in early April at the same time the river reaches a temperature that triggers the beginning of fish migration in from the sea to spawn. This procession proceeds from south to north in an orderly manner from magnolia to forsythia to shadbush to flowering dogwood, with lilac being the final signal that spring is ready for summer. This process is called phenology, the study of nature through the appearance of seasonal phenomena. The word comes from the Greek word phaino, meaning “to appear,” or the Latin phenomenon, meaning “appearance, happening, or display.”
– Tom Lake

Shadbush

Shadbush (Amelanchier sp.) – courtesy of Tom Lake

3/24 – Town of Poughkeepsie: I was able to watch the adults at bald eagle nest NY62 feeding a new nestling at 30-45 minute intervals. This was the all-important “first food to the nest,” a basic clue of a hatch.
– Bob Rightmyer

3/24 – Town of Poughkeepsie: It was the day after nearly four-inches of rain, and we hoped all was well in bald eagle nest NY62. With a likely hatch, we reassessed our estimated hatch date and found we were not wildly off target: We had presumed a 3/19 hatch, but instead it occurred 3/24.
– Tom Lake, Bailey Lake

3/24 – Hudson River Watershed: If you look up this time of the spring season, you will see trees such as poplar, willow, and some maples) that have opened their flower buds and are in the process of being pollinated. However, if you look down, the reproduction of forest floor plants has yet to begin, except for the early-blossoming skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

Their flowers appear before the leaves and this early maturation benefits pollinators such as flies, springtails and beetles that are active, providing them with both food (pollen) as well as a mini-warming hut for temperatures that can be below freezing at times. Fueled by energy stored in the plant’s modified underground stem (rhizome), skunk cabbage can maintain temperatures of up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (F) within their spathe (mottled maroon hood-like leaf) even as external air temperatures drop below freezing. Skunk cabbage, as noted in its common name, is best known for its strong skunk-like floral odor.
– Mary Holland

[One April, a decade ago, we had to traverse an acre of marshy skunk-cabbage woodlands to reach Moodna Creek (river mile 58) to net river herring for our ongoing research. As our boots crushed the leaves, the pungent fragrance was overwhelming and not to be confused with the field of poppies in The Wizard of Oz. (The trivial name foetidus comes from the same Latin word meaning “foul, as in “foul smelling.” Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson]

Skunk cabbage

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) – courtesy of Mary Holland

3/24 – Furnace Woods, HRM 38.5: A tiny movement in the leaves at the base of an old stone wall revealed the presence of a winter wren (Troglodytes hiemalis). Roger Tory Peterson offered “mouse-like” as a very apt description. It seemed that the bird was just passing through. I see them briefly in both spring and fall migration.
– Christopher Letts

Winter wren

Winter wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) – courtesy of Brad Imhoff

3/25 – Hudson River Watershed: Among indigenous peoples, full moons have long been labeled with fanciful names that are rooted in oral traditions, indigenous memories, and ethnographic accounts. Among Mohican people, whose ancestral homeland lies wholly within the Hudson River watershed, the March full moon is known as the Crow Moon (Kã’Kã’koowe keesok). Tribal translations of full moons pre-date colonization and generally reflect the seasonality of the lunar phase. Moon phases, in fact, were used by indigenous people as measurements of time.
– Larry Madden

3/25 – Staten Island, New York: Our glass eel (American eel) fyke net in Richmond Creek (2,200 acre Fresh Kills landfill) had captured a total of 7,817 glass eels to date. Of them, 700 were captured around this month’s full moon.
– Rob Brauman, New York City Department of Environments Protection

3/26 – Saratoga County, HR 157: The towpath west of the main entrance to the Vischer Ferry Preserve was very “birdy” this morning with lots of open water and a trail that had only a few patches of crunchy snow.  Highlights among dabbling ducks included wood ducks, American wigeon, northern pintail, green-winged teal, and blue-winged teal.  Among diver-ducks were bufflehead and ring-necked ducks.  The highlight was a mink carrying prey that appeared to be a muskrat. Other noteworthy birds were rusty blackbirds (first-of-season), northern mockingbird, eastern bluebird, and eastern phoebes.
– John Hershey (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

[The Mohawk Towpath Byway runs from Waterford to the historic Stockade District of Schenectady along the historic route of the Erie Canal. Tom Lake]

Green-winged teal

Green-winged teal – courtesy of Jeff Stacey

Fish of the Week

3/26 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 262 is the bluespotted cornetfish (Fistularia tabacaria), number 131 (of 237) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail trlake7@nullaol.com.

The bluespotted cornetfish, a marine-brackish water species, is from the same taxonomic order as the pipefishes and seahorses (Syngnathiformes) and quite closely resembles them in body type. Their genus name Fistularia comes from Latin fistulaae, as pipe or flute. They can also be mistaken for needlefish (Belonidae). Bluespotted cornetfish can reach four-feet in length and feed on small fishes, crustaceans, and squid.

The bluespotted cornetfish occurs over grass flats, reefs, and on hard and rocky bottoms. They are widespread in the Western Atlantic from the Georges Bank to Nova Scotia, to Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, to Brazil.

They are an extremely rare visitor to our watershed. The most recent record (432 mm) was caught in 2015 in the East River under the Manhattan Bridge by Cynthia Fowx (Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy).
– Tom Lake

Bluespotted cornetfish

Bluespotted cornetfish (Fistularia tabacaria) – courtesy of Cynthia Fowx

3/26 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted ten northward bound raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Osprey and red-tailed hawk were co-high count with three each. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 153.
– Tom Fiore

3/26 – 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 to check our fyke net. Our glass eel numbers had boomed to 489, perhaps in response to the full moon spring tides. Also in the cod end of the net were ten amphipods (Gammarus sp.) and one comb jelly. The water temperature was 44 degrees F, salinity was 6.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissoved oxygen (DO) was 10.5 parts-per-million (ppm).
– Jason Muller, Frances Kenny, Maria Cecconello, Jacob Martin, Ronan Selbi

3/27 – Town of Poughkeepsie: Bald eagle nest NY62 was still showing a modicum of activity. If they had a nestling(s), as we suspect they do, activity will ramp up very soon. We made our way in mid-afternoon from spotting scope distance to binoculars distance, still “eagle acceptable.” As occurred a few days ago, one of the adults came gliding low overhead down the closed-canopy road headed toward the nest carrying a long stick crossways in its beak. Once the eagle landed, it began to move around the nest looking for the spot that needed shoring up.
– Tom Lake, Bailey Lake

[Addendum: Later in the day, after we left, Bob Rightmyer took over the watch and saw one of the adults deliver a fish. This would strongly suggest that there was something in the nest that needed to be fed, i.e., a nestling. Adults almost never bring food to the nest unless there is a home-bound mouth to feed. Food in the nest is an invitation to raccoons that have a keen sense of smell, especially for fish. Similarly, consider overnight backpacking when we stash our food up and away from where we sleep. You do not want a visit from a black bear (our raccoons) at 2:00 a.m. Tom Lake]

[Bald eagle nest NY62 receives the most attention in the Hudson River Almanac. There are two contributing reasons:
– NY62 receives intense year-round monitoring by a cadre of dedicated birders.
– In addition, the NY62 four nesting sites (24 years) in the towns of Wappinger and Poughkeepsie, that comprise the NY62 territory, is the oldest continuously producing territory in the Hudson River Watershed (2001-2024).

Across those years, the female, that we estimate to be about 30 years old and still active (see photo), has produced no fewer than 30 nestlings. Her longevity and productivity is extraordinary for a bald eagle. Tom Lake]

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

3/27 – 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 today to check our fyke net. Our glass eel numbers maintained their recent high bar with 250.

The surprise in the fyke’s bag was a single larval (Leptocephalus) speckled worm-eel (Myrophis punctatus). This was our third this season, Two previous speckled worm-eels were caught, one each, on February 9 and 12 (all were 80 mm). This week’s speckled worm-eel brings our total number of this rare fish encountered in the estuary to five.

The water temperature was 46 degrees, salinity was 5.0 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 9.9 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Rachel Lynch, Ronan Selbi

[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. Bob Schmidt]

Speckled worm-eel

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

3/28 – Hudson River Watershed: In the fall, when temperatures dip down and daylight hours decrease, snakes seek sheltered spots (hibernacula). Some of these include burrows deep below the frost line, rotting logs, and cellars where they head to escape very cold temperatures. There, they can avoid freezing temperatures as their body assumes the same temperature as their environment (ectothermic or cold-blooded). If it is freezing out and snakes are exposed, they will freeze.

Snakes enter a state referred to as brumation by herpetologists.  It’s very similar to hibernation in that their metabolism and body temperature are lowered, but unlike hibernators, they do not go into a deep sleep that relies on fat storage. Brumation allows snakes to conserve energy and survive winter without substantial fat reserves.

Brumation comes to an end once temperatures start warming up in March and April.  Snakes that have emerged from brumation are typically very sluggish and easy to handle. Although it’s tempting to pick up these barely-moving snakes, it’s best to keep contact with them at a minimum, as the warmth of human hands will quickly make the snake active and perhaps delay its return to its hibernaculum should the weather suddenly turn cold. The photo shows Lily Piper Brown who could not resist holding a common garter snake fresh out of brumation for just a few seconds.
– Mary Holland

Eastern garter snake

Eastern garter snake – courtesy of Suzi Wizowaty

3/28 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh today at mid-tide to check our fyke net and discovered that our glass eel numbers had received a boost to 345.

Our second surprise of the week in the fyke’s cod end was yet another larval (Leptocephalus) speckled worm-eel (Myrophis punctatus). This was our fourth this season. Additionally, this week’s two speckled worm-eels brings our total number of this rare fish encountered in the estuary to six. The water temperature was 46 degrees F, salinity was 4.5 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 9.9 ppm.
– Jason Muller

3/29 – Hudson River Watershed: Great horned owls are said to have a wider range of nest sites than any other bird in the Americas (birdsoftheworld.org). In addition to the abandoned nests of red-tailed hawks, crows, ravens, great blue herons, and squirrels, great horned owls have been known to use cavities in trees, snags, cliffs, deserted buildings, artificial platforms, ledges, and even nest on the ground. As an example of its nest site adaptability, in Lawrence, Kansas, a pair of great horned owls laid eggs and raised two young in a large flowerpot on the deck of a third-story city apartment house.

Because Great horned owls breed so early in the year and because they commonly use abandoned or empty tree nests of other species, they are quick to take advantage of great blue heron nests (see photo) before the herons return to claim them.
– Mary Holland

Great-horned owl

Great horned owl – courtesy of Mary Holland

3/29 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted nineteen northward bound raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Red-shouldered hawk was high count with five. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 150.
– Tom Fiore

3/29 – 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 to check our fyke net. Our glass eel numbers were halved from three days ago — whatever the motivation they felt had eased — but still a decent catch at 236. The water temperature was 47 degrees F, salinity was 2.0 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 10.2 ppm. 
– Jason Muller, Diane McKay, Caitlin McCabe, Ronan Selbi

Shadbush

Shadbush with permission by Smithsonian Gardens

Spring 2024 Natural History Programs and Events

Trees for Tribs Potting Up

April 26 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
NYSDEC Region 3 Office
21 South Putt Corners Road
New Paltz, NY 12561

Celebrate Arbor Day with the Hudson Estuary Trees for Tribs by helping us transfer 2,500 bareroot seedlings into soil that we will use to help protect streams. Come prepared to work with soil and get dirty.

Bring a water bottle and gardening gloves if you have them. No prior experience is necessary. 

You must register to attend. 

Register for the Potting Up Volunteer

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:

  • 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.

Was this Newsletter Forwarded to You?

Subscribe today to DEC Delivers Hudson River Almanac topic for weekly natural history journal that covers the Hudson from the High Peaks of the Adirondacks to New York Harbor.

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.