Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

The season for new life has begun. From hatchling turtles to nestling eagles, from to salamander eggs to ducklings to young-of-year fishes, life was blossoming.

Highlight of the Week

4/16 – Ulster County, HRM 78: While hiking in the Mohonk Foothills in mid-morning, I checked a couple of vernal pools for amphibian eggs. One very small pool had five clusters of spotted salamander eggs. I eventually made my way to the Kleine Kill Pool where I was greeted by a nesting pair of mallards sharing a partially submerged tree trunk with ten eastern (Chrysemys picta picta), and midland (C. p. marginata) painted turtles, the most widespread native turtle in North America. As is often the case, an ill-timed human disturbance caused all the animals to vacate the log leaving this idyllic interspecies moment as just a memory.
– Bob Ottens

Painted turtles

Painted turtles – courtesy of Bob Ottens

Natural History Entries

4/13 – Essex County, HRM 288: Before we close the book on the Solar Eclipse of April 8, I’d like to add a breathtaking image of the eclipse, including the “Diamond Ring” effect just at the onset of totality at Schroon Lake.
– Mark Courtney

Solar eclipse

Solar eclipse – courtesy of Mark Courtney

4/13 – Minerva, HRM 284: Spring was slowly arriving in Essex County. I heard two barred owls hooting back and forth at each other for the first time this year. In a vernal pond, of which I am fond, this evening I heard the quacking of wood frogs along with a couple of early spring peepers peeping. These little guys are normally active following the wood frogs.
– Mike Corey

4/13 – Town of Poughkeepsie: It was a “coming-out party” today at bald eagle nest NY62. Our 2024 nestling made its debut. So far, its menu has consisted of highly nutritious white catfish, channel catfish, and goldfish.
– Bob Rightmyer

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

4/13 – Newburgh, HRM 61: I enjoyed two mornings of very good birding this weekend, during the first of which I added several new birds to my Orange County year list. I finally got a great cormorant for the county at the Newburgh Waterfront, as well as a common loon.
– Matt Zeitler

Common loon

Common loon – courtesy of Matt Zeitler

4/13 – Bronx, New York City: A Virginia rail, hidden in the Phragmites, was recently heard clattering (“kiddik, kiddik”) in the marsh at Van Cortlandt Park.
– Debbi Dolan

[The Virginia rail (Rallus limicola) is a medium-sized marsh bird (Rallidae), overall orange with red bill and legs, gray cheek, and black stripes on the back. They are mostly found in freshwater marshes but also occur in brackish and saltwater where they prefer extensive cattails or stands of Phragmites. eBird]

Virginia rail

Virginia rail (Rallus limicola) – courtesy of Anthony Van Schoor

4/14 – Waterford, HRM 158: There was confirmation today at bald eagle nest NY485 on Peebles Island as I watched the adults feed two nestlings. This first feeding was about a week later than last year.
– Howard Stoner

4/14 – Hudson River Watershed: It is the season when all sorts of wildlife are crossing the road to get to the other side. In recent days it was amphibians. Now we have ducks, most often hen mallards and their brood (ducklings). They will trustingly cross in front of your vehicle, usually in a very precise formation. Twice in the last few days I’ve encountered such a procession on back roads. (Wild turkeys will also make crossings later in the season, albeit with assigned hen turkey “traffic guards.”) It is always advisable to drive carefully and anticipate such crossings.
– Tom Lake

Mallards

Mallards – courtesy of Emily Schroeder

4/14 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 110 northward bound raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today. Broad-winged hawk was high count with 90. The broad-winged hawks made a nice showing, with most of those seen coming as singles or in twos, and only a few small kettle-displays later in the day.

Most exceptional was a flight of common loons. At close range they numbered in the low-dozens flying mostly northwest. Their numbers, however, were in fact in the triple-digits range flying far from the summit. The other waterbird in high numbers as migrants were double-crested cormorants, with many-hundreds of them moving by and going on almost all day, for more than nine hours.
– Steve Sachs, Tom Fiore

4/15 – Town of New Paltz, HRM 78: We were walking along the Swartekill on Black Creek Road recently on a drizzling morning when we found a newly emerged hatchling painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) in the middle of the road. We could tell it was fresh from the nest because it was slightly covered with soil and the carapace still resembled the shape of the egg from which it had hatched last summer.

These were hatchlings, about the size of a quarter and had just emerged from their natal nest. They were technically seven months old but had been waiting for spring to emerge. Up until now, they had lived off energy reserves converted from their yolk.

A quick survey of the area revealed three more live hatchlings and another that had very recently been hit by a vehicle. All five were within a few feet of one another which made it possible to find the nickel-sized opening to the nest cavity a few feet from the roadside. The nest was empty and gentle probing revealed it was only a few inches down to the deteriorating eggshells packed into the floor of the nest chamber.
– Patrick Baker, Tracy Baker

Painted turtles

Painted turtles – courtesy of Patrick Baker

4/15 – Town of Poughkeepsie: The adults at bald eagle nest NY62 brought three channel catfish to the nest today, which seemed extraordinary considering that so far we have only seen one tiny nestling.
– Bob Rightmyer

4/15 – Westchester County, HRM 43: As far as I can tell, there is at least one, and I think probably just the one, nestling, moving around through holes in branches in bald eagle nest NY430 in Yorktown Heights. One of the adults carried what appeared to be a Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) in its beak today on the rim of the nest. It was not clear, however, if the rat was on its way in, or out.
– Roger Pare

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Roger Pare

Fish of the Week

4/16 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 265 is the pollock (Pollachius virens), fish number 107 (of 237), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com.

Pollock is one of three cods (Gadidae, Cods and Haddocks) documented for our watershed. The others are the Atlantic cod and the Atlantic tomcod. Atlantic cod and pollock are strictly marine species; Atlantic tomcod is anadromous, migrating in from the sea to inland tidewaters to spawn.

Maintaining our Hudson River Watershed Fish List can be a serendipitous proposition. Pollock has been on our list by virtue of a single occurrence in April 1980, a 53-millimeter young-of-year from Indian Point (river mile 42). Pollock is presently designated as a temperate marine stray, essentially a cold-water fish favoring seawater temperatures of 52 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Pollock feed on small fish and larger crustaceans along coastal slopes that favor a hard bottom. They spawn in late autumn and early winter, making our single record from 1980 likely to be a young-of-winter fish.

Pollock, known colloquially as “Boston blue,” as well as coalfish, green cod, and saithe (Norwegian spelling in the UK) are found in the western Atlantic from Nova Scotia to the New York Bight, although they are reported to Cape Lookout NC. While juveniles are common in the New York Bight (Waldman & Briggs 2002), wintering inshore south to Virginia, adults are rare south of Cape Cod. Adults can reach 42-inches and weigh 35-pounds.

Pollock come in several shades and colors including brownish-green, grayish, smoke gray, but always with an underlying greenish hue. Bigelow and Schroeder in their Fishes of the Gulf of Maine (1953) cite its beautiful olive green color as a differentiating field mark when caught in the company of Atlantic cod and haddock. Another easy field mark is the lateral line: In pollock it is nearly straight; in cod the lateral line arches noticeably forward.

Bigelow & Schroder also report of schools of young pollock running up New England estuaries in autumn in pursuit of rainbow smelt. There was a time when the Hudson River had a significant late winter-early sprig population of anadromous rainbow smelt. Before annotated, detailed records were compiled for Hudson River fish, did pollock chase smelt up our estuary in late winter-early spring? Today, both smelt and pollock do not find the warm temperate waters of the estuary and New York Bight comfortable. The pollock may never have been here, and the smelt are all but gone.
– Tom Lake

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

Pollock

Pollock – courtesy of NOAA

4/16 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: Bald eagle nest NY459 located on the periphery of the tidal Wappinger Creek, dubbed “The Bridge Nest,” has been a tough one to monitor this spring. The adults have built up the front of the nest facing our observation post. As a result, we have been forced to do much of our monitoring by observing the comings and goings of the adults.

We have seen the adults perched in tall oaks and black locusts along the creek since January. With almost no ice on the creek, hunting has been good. Yesterday, nest-watcher Mike Schwartz saw an adult bring a fish to the nest, a signal that there is at least one more mouth to feed. The day before, in fairly typical eagle fashion, an adult brought a fish to a nearby tree an ate it all.
– Judy Winter

4/16 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 139 northward bound raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today (no vultures!). Broad-winged hawk was high count with 89. American kestrel was next with 22, A group of 12 bald eagles moved through in mid-morning with some chasing each other around for a bit, but ultimately all went through.
– Steve Sachs

4/16 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh today to check our fyke net. There was a significant catch of 94 glass eels. We made five hauls of our seine later and caught two mummichogs [killifish].

The water temperature was 53 degrees Fahrenheit (F), the salinity had hit near rock-bottom at 0.9 parts-per thousand (ppt), and dissolved oxygen (DO) was 10.2 parts-per-million (ppm).
– Jason Muller, Frances Kenney, Jacob Martin

4/17 – Essex County: A highlight of our April 8 Solar Eclipse experience was observing an osprey nesting platform on an old power pole in the middle of the sloping fields of Fort Ticonderoga Historic Site on Lake Champlain.

When we arrived, two pair of osprey were wheeling and riding the thermals of the peninsula calling and seemingly content while in the sky. The birds had it down to a fine art: Every fifteen minutes they cut their high calling cries and swooped down, wings cut, as one bird attempted to place a stick to claim the platform. Every time the opposing pair swooped in to attack, the osprey on the nest defended with incredible aerobatics with talons outstretched. These exchanges were often too fast for the naked eye to catch but were caught by our camera in the bright morning sunshine. This routine was repeated no fewer than eight times at the same interval. Possibly they were young adults from the previous year harassing their parents.

I could not have had a better photo opportunity with the snowy Adirondacks and Lake Champlain in the background on a day topped by the awe inspiring Total Solar Eclipse!
– Mario Meier

[It’s hard to imagine osprey doing something as intricate as building a nest without the use of hands, but they do it year after year. The male osprey generally brings the bulk of the material to the nest site and the female arranges it. He may break dead sticks off nearby trees in flight or (more often) snatch sticks from the ground. Material is added to the nest throughout the nestling period. When returning to a pre-existing nest, both osprey engage in rearranging the nesting material that remains from the previous year before adding new material. Mary Holland]

4/17 – Town of Poughkeepsie: From a partially-hidden blind, I watched bald eagle nest NY62 for nearly an hour today. The blind was only partial because the female, sitting in the nest more than 150 feet away, knew I was there, albeit non-intrusively. Our unblinking eyes pretty much locked: hers an imperious stare, mine trying to mimic a tree stump. There was no sign of the well-fed nestling.

I blinked first and decided to scout around the base of the tree looking for evidence of past meals (leftovers go over the side). I came across one fish head, oddly a white catfish. The several photos Bob Rightmyer had taken in the last week or so of catfish heading to the nest had all been channel catfish.
– Tom Lake

Osprey

Osprey – courtesy of Mario Meier

4/17 – Rockland County, HRM 32: An eastern black snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), estimated to be no less than five-feet-long, was first spotted by Congers Lake groundskeeper Donato Parisi. DEC Region 3 was contacted to confirm the identification and suggested, after viewing photos, that the extremely well-fed black snake had likely just come out of hibernation. DEC biologists reiterated that eastern black snakes, despite their size, are not dangerous to people. 
– Nick Caloway, Jen Zunino-Smith

[Pantherophis alleghaniensis, the eastern black snake is endemic to North America. It is a species of non-venomous snake in the family Columbidae (constrictors). They are excellent swimmers and climbers and use these skills to catch a variety of food such as rodents, frog, and bird’s eggs. They can grow to eight-feet-long and, as constrictors, they use their body to suffocate their prey. Tom Lake]

Eastern black snake

Eastern black snake – courtesy of Nick Calloway

4/17 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned at low tide to our tidemarsh today to check our fyke net. The numbers dropped (we have been spoiled lately by high numbers) to 45 glass eels. There was another mummichog, as well as our first (ever, apparently) tessellated darter (Etheostoma olmstedi).

With five hauls, we had some success with seining, catching our first blue crabs (20-30 mm) and a single young-of-year Atlantic herring. The water temperature was 52 degrees F, the salinity was again very low at 0.9 ppt, and dissolved oxygen (DO) was 10.3 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Ronan Selbi, Katie Lamboy

[Crab measurements (size) are calculated in millimeters (mm) point-to-point across their carapace. Tom Lake]

4/17 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project staff and interns checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy at Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey. Alongside grass shrimp, mud crabs and isopods, we found juvenile black sea bass (60-70mm) were in minnow pots at both trap sites. 
– Siddhartha Hayes, Brandon Campos, Renee Mariner, Laila Ortiz, Maggie Zhen

4/18 – Hudson River Watershed: Round-lobed (Hepatica americana) and sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) are two of our earliest plants to flower, blossoming in early to mid-April, before tree leaves have unfurled, allowing the sun’s rays to reach the forest floor.

The leaves of these plants are evergreen; new ones are produced in May. They remain on the plant for a full year, through the next spring’s flowering period (many spring wildflowers, or ephemerals, produce leaves, flowers, and fruits in a short amount of time and then disappear). Not only do hepatica leaves photosynthesize on warm winter days (if snow hasn’t buried them), but even worn and tattered they go into high gear in the spring, photosynthesizing before the leaves of other plants have even appeared. Thus, hepatica can produce its flowers earlier than most other spring wildflowers. 
– Mary Holland

Round-lobed hepatica

Round-lobed hepatica – courtesy of Mary Holland

4/18 – Orange County, HRM 37: Is it pathetic or is it awesome that a single bird can make my week? Regardless, that’s what happened. It began tonight when I rolled up to Greenwood Lake and found a gorgeous, red-necked grebe on the water. The bird slowly made its way toward the shore where a birder friend Kyle Knapp joined me on the beach. We enjoyed some good looks, but the bird remained tucked in most of the time.
– Matt Zeitler

Red-necked grebe

Red-necked grebe – courtesy of Matt Zeitler

4/18 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh today to check our fyke net. Our glass eel count was in a dip (cycle) with nine, but we did catch eight Atlantic herring and one summer founder. The water temperature was 50 degrees F, the salinity was up at 2.6 ppt, and dissolved oxygen (DO) was 10.3 ppm. 
– Jason Muller, Khadija Diop, Hamima Hossain

4/19 – Glens Falls, HRM 208: Last week we mentioned the connection of the Hudson River at Fort Edward, and Lake Champlain via the Hudson-Champlain Canal, Today we were reminded of another connection.

The Hudson-Champlain Canal is fed with Hudson River water from a feeder canal in Glens Falls that enters at the high point. From there, Hudson River water flows both ways. Actually, the Hudson does flow into Lake Champlain.
– Fingry

4/19 – Verplanck, HRM 40.5: This newspaper article was provided by Mark Cheshire, Village Historian for Westchester County’s Croton-on-Hudson. Over the decades of the Hudson River Almanac, Marc has offered many newspaper accounts of important historical moments on the Hudson River.

“The largest salmon [Atlantic] ever known to have been caught in the Hudson River since Seth Green stocked it with spawn nine years ago [1884] was taken in a shad net off Verplanck’s Point, on Saturday. Its weight was 17½ lb., and being a male fish, its weight was the more remarkable. It tore the net of Joseph Conklin, the lucky fisherman, badly before he succeeded in getting it into his boat” (Highland Democrat, May 13, 1893).

[Seth Green (1817-1888) was a recognized self-taught fisheries expert in his time. Green invented the methods of protecting the spawn of the salmon, and in 1867 hatched 15,000,000 shad at Holyoke, Mass. He extended his work of artificial hatching to the Hudson, Potomac, and Susquehanna rivers. Beginning in 1882, the New York Fish, Game, and Forest Commission stocked nearly four million Atlantic Salmon in the Hudson River attempting to establish a breeding population (A. Nelson Cheney, National Fisheries Congress 1898).  

There was some initial success with this stocking as immature salmon went to sea and
returned four years later as adults. However, by the end of the 19th century the effort had failed for two reasons: There was very little suitable spawning habitat in the Hudson River (the most favorable habitat was found above tidewater in the Battenkill River, river mile 188), and commercial fishermen illegally caught hundreds of adult fish, the spawning stock, in from the sea as they migrated upriver in the spring. Tom Lake]

4/19 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh today to check our fyke net. We ended 12 weeks of sampling with 38 more glass eels adding to our impressive season-long numbers. Six hauls of our beach seine netted us two mummichogs (55-70 mm), a grass shrimp, and one tiny blue crab (10 mm). The water temperature was 49 degrees F, the salinity was up at 1.9 ppt, and dissolved oxygen (DO) was 10.9 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Diane McKay, Dylan Sandow, Loiusa Hausslein, Ronan Selbi

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches – courtesy of Mark Courtney

Spring 2024 Natural History Programs and Events

Science Saturdays 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

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.