Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

A “first recorded sighting” of any wildlife is noteworthy. This week we had a rare bird “first sighting” in two counties on the same day. What follows this week is an Ode to Spring, a celebration of rebirth and remembrance.

Highlight of the Week

4/20 – Town of Newburgh/Town of New Windsor, HRM 60: Jeanne Cimorelli reported having had a brief look at an extremely rare (to our area) Little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) at Washington Lake in Newburgh. Fortunately, Larophile extraordinaire Bruce Nott relocated the bird a while later at the Hudson River. The gull stuck around associating with a large flock of Bonaparte’s gulls just upriver of Plum Point. Once the flock took flight it was easy to spot the gull, its dark underwings showing up very well. This was a life bird for me.
– Matt Zeitler

[A “life bird” is part of a life list, a common activity for many wildlife enthusiasts. Typically, these are compilations of related species, like postcards from one’s travel through life. Some people keep bird lists; for others, it is fish, flowers, butterflies, mushrooms, sea-shells. Anyone can keep a list of almost anything that ultimately gives them a context and appreciation for the natural world. Tom Lake]

[A Larophile is one who arguably spends too much of their time sorting through flocks of gulls enjoying the challenge of identifying, aging, and studying them. Tom Lake]

4/20 – Dutchess County, HRM 56.5: An adult Little gull was seen and photographed by no fewer than eight birders from the Breakneck Ridge train overpass off Route 9D. The gull was in company with dozens of Bonaparte’s gulls (a usual association). This was the first recorded sighting of the species for both Dutchess and Orange counties.
– Stan DeOrsey

[Little gull is the smallest gull in the world. They are compact with short legs, short, rounded wings, and a small bill. They are primarily a Eurasian species, breeding from eastern Europe to central Asia and wintering around the Mediterranean Sea. They breed in marshy wetlands and winter offshore or in coastal waters. Little gull is uncommon to rare in North America. They are typically found singly among flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls on lakes, beaches, estuaries, or bays. The first known Little gull nesting in North America occurred in 1962. Stan DeOrsey]

Little gull

Little gull – courtesy of Jeanne Cimorelli

Natural History Entries

4/19 – Hudson River Watershed: In last week’s Almanac (4/15), we mentioned a Norway rat that was carried by an adult bald eagle to its nest that had hungry nestlings. Questions followed, such as, “Where would a bald eagle find a Norway rat?”

After decades of eagle observation, we should never doubt an eagle’s almost mythic ability to procure prey. For example, it is not uncommon in winter, with the river frozen bank-to-bank with no apparent open water, to see a bald eagle fly past with an American eel in its talons. Bald Eagle biologist Pete Nye compiled a list of many unusual items brought to bald eagle nests including muskrats, snapping turtles, musk turtles, baby beaver, northern water snakes, gray squirrels, white-tailed deer skulls, ducks, geese, and tennis balls.

Perhaps the most memorable rat-to-the-nest moment occurred several years ago at bald eagle nest NY62. Two nestlings fledged one day in June, stepping out of the nest for the first time. The first immediately found freedom and open skies to its liking, However, the other fledgling took up a post perched on a limb in the nearby tree and refused to go any further. For a couple of days, the fledgling held fast to that limb. The adults brought striped bass and dropped them on the grass under the tree. Nothing changed. On day three, the male brought a rat (Rattus sp.) to the limb. It may have been our inherent bias toward rats, but the fledgling seemed to recoil in disgust (see photo). The rat was refused but may have done its job. The next morning, the fledgling was off and flying.
– Tom Lake

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Terry Hardy

4/19 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, with assistance today from a second-grade class at Bank Street School in Manhattan, returned at high tide to our tidemarsh to check our fyke net. The students were thrilled to help us count 54 glass eels. Afterwards, we made eight hauls of our beach seine netting a comb jelly and an extraordinarily large mummichog (125 millimeters). The water temperature was 51 degrees Fahrenheit (F), the salinity was 5.2 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen was 10.0 parts-per-million (ppm).
–  Katie Lamboy, Jason Muller, Dylan Sandow, Caitlin McCabe, Emily Orr

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

Mummichog

Mummichog – courtesy of Robert Muller

4/19 – Governors Island, Manhattan: Our Billion Oyster Project staff and interns deployed eleven minnow pots off Pier 101 in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor today to sample aquatic life. We check our gear twice a week, identify organisms, and compile the data.

Despite limited expectations given the chilly water of the Upper Bay, our first gear-lift was exciting as well as very promising. Invertebrates in our catch included a sea gooseberry (Pleurobrachia pileus), a species of comb jelly (Ctenophora), as well as grass shrimp (Palaemon sp.). Among fishes we found Atlantic silverside (42 mm), a spotted hake (110 mm), and two skilletfish.
– Natalie Kim, Restoration Field Technician, Madison O’Brien, Omisha Hossain

[Our interns are students at the Harbor School on Governors Island, partnering with The Billion Oyster Project. The goal of our project is to establish a baseline understanding of the fish population around Governors Island. We are piloting the study this year and plan to continue it each future field season. We hope to use the study as a tool to teach our student interns about field sampling techniques and data analysis. Natalie Kim]

4/20 – Hudson River Watershed: One of the joys of spring is watching the forests and fields come alive with color. Perhaps the most spectacular is the native purple-pink of eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), a sight that when in full bloom can take your breath away.

Foremost, however, there are many white blossoms, including flowering dogwood and shadbush. However, the shadbush (Amelanchier sp.) occupies an important place in the Hudson Valley culture as a bio-indicator of a warming springtime river. This small native tree can be spotted by its soft, hazy-white glow. The flowered branches often align with a recognizable horizontal aspect.
– Tom Lake

Shadbush

Shadbush – courtesy of Chris Bowser

4/20 – Hudson River Watershed; When the first of our species (Homo sapiens sapiens) arrived in the post-Ice Age Hudson Valley, they brought with them survival skills they had accumulated during their long journey across North America. Among those skills was appreciating the ease of catching fish as opposed to the time, trouble, and occasional danger required in pursuing upland game. Those skills were most effectively practiced in spring, when millions of fish surged in from the sea to spawn.
– Tom Lake

4/20 – Hudson River Tidewater: Once there was a Brotherhood of Rivermen, commercial fishers setting and hauling their gear in the Hudson River each April. The origin of their camaraderie extends back to at least Colonial Times (see Shad Run, Howard Breslin,1955), and likely much further.

In that time, there was a 150-mile-long tidewater network of rivermen, linked more by competition than cordiality, from the Lower Bay of New York Harbor to the head of tide at Green Island (Troy). That network kept a weather eye on the river.

Before April, however, there was March when the fishermen would be busy in their garages, basements, or fish shacks, hanging twine, seaming nets, painting floats, and checking bio-indicators like water temperature and the blooming of tell-tale flowers such as shadbush. Those were rough times in early spring, with ice in the boats and fingers numb. Today they are remembered as a nostalgic contribution to Hudson River lore and legend.
– Tom Lake

[Rivermen is a collective noun of people of both sexes who plied their trade on the Hudson River through hunting, trapping, fishing, shellfishing, boating, and other niches. This culture was largely lost in 2010 when our nets were taken out of the river in deference to the health of our shad population. Today we have a network of educators, scientists, and students, a truly all-inclusive cadre of skilled and dedicated people keeping an eye on the river. Tom Lake]

John Mylod

John Mylod – courtesy of Tom Lake

4/20 – Columbia County, HRM 114: During spring seasons in the mid-1990s, Christopher Letts, Chris Lake, and I would accompany legendary riverman Everett Nack and his licensed haul seine to the shallows off Rogers Island to net adult American shad. Sometimes we’d collect the entire fish, alive; at other times we’d just collect roe (egg) and milt to fertilize the eggs. All of this was trucked to a fish hatchery in Harrisburg, PA. From there, they would be stocked, as appropriate, in the Susquehanna River. Susquehanna’s shad population had been severally diminished due to the Conowingo Dam in Maryland, blocking passage upstream to spawning grounds.

Afterwards, we would retire to Everett’s parlor and enjoy his homemade dandelion wine, a drink that had also become legendary in some circles. As to its quality, I think the idea of it made it attractive, and we suspected there were ingredients in addition to dandelions.
– Tom Lake

[In April, our bright yellow common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is found seemingly on every lawn and roadside where it has its many admirers and detractors. Dandelion is native to Eurasia and was introduced from Europe into North America. The common dandelion is edible and has a long history of begin harvested for salad greens and apparently even wine. Tom Lake]

Dandelion

Dandelions – courtesy of Martin Ruegner

4/20 – Hudson River Estuary: Those who used to fish for American shad (pre-2010) with commercial gear in early spring, cannot help but look at, and think about, the Hudson River every day. They assess the wind, the weather, the tide, the current, the phase of the moon, and consider if a pulse of huge striped bass was heading upriver that might destroy their nets. And then wonder if they might have taken a chance, and gone out and set their gear, just for their love of their river and their craft, on such a day.
– Tom Lake

Shad fishers

Shad fishers – courtesy of Lawson Edgar

4/20 – Haverstraw, HRM 36: The Lamont Field Station crew with our Next Generation Team of interns seined as part of an Earth Day Festival at Emeline Park. The group hauled the net along the waterfront a dozen times over the course of the day netting an assortment of transparent young-of-year bay anchovies and Atlantic Silverside. A local Haverstraw resident stopped by with two large white catfish and a channel catfish that he had caught on rod and reel just upriver of the beach. The water temperature was 58 degrees F, and the salinity was very low at 0.26 ppt.
– Margie Turrin, Marisa Annunziato

4/21 – Waterford, HRM 158: I finally had a clear view of bald eagle nest NY485 today, maybe for the first time this season, and there were three nestlings in attendance. The last time we had three nestlings was in 2022.
– Howard Stoner

4/21 – Haverstraw, HRM 36: Our Sunday morning eel monitoring team was excited to see a nice group of young glass eels (696) in our Minisceongo Creek fyke net, along with six elvers (last year’s glass eels), and one mummichog. The glass eels were carefully weighed and then returned to the creek upstream above the Minisceongo dam, to avoid counting them again tomorrow. A racoon peered at us as it moved stealthily along the fence, perhaps annoyed at the disturbance in the creek. The water temperature was 56 degrees F.
– Margie Turin, Brent Turrin, Jenn Woods, Maya Kalendar, Lisa alves, Sam Alves

4/21 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 334 northward bound raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today. Broad-winged hawk was high count with 299. Bald eagle was next with 16. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with eight.
– Steve Sachs, Tom Fiore, Pedro Troche, Karen Troche

4/22 – Hudson River Watershed: Global Warming. Last month (March) world-wide, was the warmest March ever recorded (since 1927). The same can be said for the preceding ten months.
– World Meteorological Organization (World Weather Records), Switzerland

4/22 – Denning’s Point, HRM 59: We began our spring education sails this week aboard the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. On our way to meet students at Beacon, we hauled our otter trawl of Denning’s Point. We had a wonderful catch that included 33 channel catfish ranging in size from 3-13-inches, 23 white perch, 17 brown bullheads, and four hogchokers. Most remarkable, however, was a white catfish (10-inches), the first I had ever seen in the river.
– Chloe Grey Smith

[An otter trawl is a net used by researchers, educators, and commercial fisheries to capture aquatic life. The net is generally pulled behind a vessel under way operating much like a seine hauled along a beach. The trawl has a bag, also called the “cod end,” where fish collect. The sides of the net are held open by pressure exerted on two rectangular boards (“doors”), one on either side. The depth it fishes can be regulated depending on the speed of the vessel and how much line is played out, called the “scope.” As the scope increases–the distance between the vessel and the otter trawl–the net fishes deeper. Tom Lake]

Otter trawl

Otter trawl – courtesy of NOAA

4/22 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 229 northward bound raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today. Broad-winged hawk was high count with 188. Sharp-shinned hawk was next with 19. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 34.

A brief instant of added excitement occurred in mid-morning when a large and bulky-looking Accipiter came suddenly and rapidly to our great-horned owl-decoy. Having risen rapidly from below the cliffs on the mountain’s south side, this gave our counter a brief start. It was a hefty Cooper’s hawk and was photographed clearly showing the colors of an adult female. Whew!
– Steve Sachs, Tom Fiore, Pedro Troche, Karen Troche

4/23 – Saratoga Lake, HRM 186: This huge lake is a must-stop on every journey to the Adirondacks. From Brown’s Beach the lake looked remarkably free of waterfowl. Even with the scope, no ducks anywhere—I had never seen that before. As I was wrapping up, a pair of common loons moved out from behind some yet-to-be-readied for summer walkways and piers 200 feet offshore. They had been blocked from view. I was glad I did not miss them in their elegant breeding colors.
 – Tom Lake

[Author John McPhee’s ode to the common loon (Gavia immer) beautifully describes their behavior, including their four distinct calls, in his Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975). Writer William Barklow adds “There is perhaps no natural sound that more completely symbolizes the northern wilderness lake than the call of the loon.” To most of us, the loon authenticates the wildness of the Adirondacks. In Europe, they are called the “Great Northern Diver,” a name perfectly befitting this magnificent bird. – Tom Lake]

Common loon

Common loon – courtesy of Bob Duchesne

Osprey

Osprey – courtesy of Mario Meier

4/23 – Ossining, HRM 33: 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 accounts of important historical moments on the Hudson River.

“On Saturday evening last while Frank Andrews was going out to raise his net, he saw a boat and two men at work raising his nets, helping themselves to the shad and then pretending they owned the net. It has become a practice for some loafers who are blessed with a lack of ambition, to go out on the river at night and raise other men’s nets and steal the fish. A few months in the penitentiary [Sing Sing] would have a good effect on these river thieves (Highland Democrat, May 13, 1893).

4/23 – 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 April full moon is known as the Grass and Geese Moon, or Othkeethkwun wãak Pkwaaxowãpthowuk Neepãʔuk in the Mohican dialect. 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, Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians

4/23 – 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 low tide to check our fyke net. Overnight, we had caught 47 glass eels. The water temperature was 53 degrees F, salinity was 4.6 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 9.8 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Frances Kenney, Maria Cecconello

4/23 – Governors Island, Manhattan: Our Billion Oyster Project staff and interns checked the eleven minnow pots we deployed off Pier 101 in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. Our catch was meager, primarily grass shrimp, but we did find a single (invasive) Pacific shore crab.
– Natalie Kim, Restoration Field Technician, Madison O’Brien, Omisha Hossain

[The Pacific shore crab is native to East Asia and is now an invasive species in North America and Europe. It was introduced by ships from Asia emptying their ballast tanks in coastal waters. They are opportunistic omnivores but decidedly prefer mollusks. They tolerate a wide range of salinities and water temperatures. Their maximum carapace width is 50 mm (Davis 2012).]

Fish of the Week

4/24 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 266 is the windowpane (Scophthalmus aquosus), number 227 (of 235) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail – trlake7@nullaol.com.

Windowpane were re-categorized (taxonomically) from Bothidae (lefteyed flounder) to Scophthalmidae (Turbots) in 1945, although that change rarely appeared in literature until 2003 when ichthyologist Bruno Chanet finally articulated a reasonable set of characters and monophyly of Scophthalmidae, their present family association.

Regardless of family changes, windowpane is still, morphologically, a left-eyed flounder. Like other flounders, they are born with one eye on each side of their head, as with most fishes. As they grow from the larval to their juvenile stage, through a process called metamorphosis, one eye migrates to the opposite side of their head. As a result, windowpane lie on their right side with both eyes on their left side, facing skyward. The right side, or “blind” side, faces the bottom. As their common name suggests, windowpane are quasi-transparent, a very thin flatfish,

This odd arrangement of eyes is a wonderful example of evolutionary adaptation through natural selection and favored traits. As a further adaptation for concealment, the topside of most flounders can almost precisely mimic the substrate providing excellent camouflage from predators.

Windowpane are commonly found, favoring inshore sandy shallows, from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to northern Florida where they can get to 18-inches long. Bigelow and Schroeder in their Fishes of the Gulf of Maine (1953) refer to windowpane as “sand flounder.” Briggs and Waldman’s Marine Fishes of New York (2002) describe windowpane as “abundant” in the New York Bight. Smith and Lake (1990) define windowpane as a seasonally-resident marine species, found in the lower Hudson estuary from the Tappan Zee upriver to Haverstraw (river mile 35).
– Tom Lake

Windowpane

Windowpane – with permission by Barnegat Bay Partnership

4/24 – Yonkers, HRM 18:  Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned at high tide today to our tidemarsh to check our fyke net. Our glass eel catch (17) was much lower than recently. Later we made five hauls with our seine and caught a blue crab (30 mm). The water temperature was 51 degrees F, the salinity was 6.1 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 10.0 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Ronan Selbi, Rachel Lynch, Emily Orr

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

4/24 – 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. We hauled our gear between intermittent bouts of rain today and despite the weather we encountered a collection of including a black sea bass (60 mm), a skilletfish (50 mm), two blackfish/tautog (170 -195 mm), and the catch of the day, two American eels (340-360 mm).
– Toland Kister, Maggie Zhen, Laila Ortiz, Brandon Campos, Renee Mariner

Pacific shore crab

Pacific shore crab – courtesy of NOAA

4/25 – Hudson River Watershed: Because the American Bittern lives in marshes among dense vegetation where sight is restricted, they communicate with each other largely through their calls. These calls are made at a very low frequency which allows them to be audible at great distances.

The call heard most often, especially early in their breeding season, is low, resonant, and composed of three syllables that sound something like “pump-er-lunk,” preceded by a series of clicking and gulping sounds. The male bittern accomplishes this by inflating his esophagus while simultaneously contorting himself quite violently. He repeats the call up to ten times and uses it to establish his territory as well as to advertise for a mate.
– Mary Holland

[In the Adirondacks, Mike Corey has annual visits from one or more American bitterns. They take up seasonal residence in his “back forty” where a wetland provides suitable habitat. Mike knows when they’ve arrived each season by hearing their “bad plumbing” call. Tom Lake]

American bitten

American bitten – courtesy of Mary Holland

4/25 – Rockland County, HRM 25: My daughter and I went fishing at Piermont Pier today armed with “cut bunker” (Atlantic menhaden) for bait. Our catfish catch was impressive: three white catfish and, in response to the present low salinity, three channel catfish. Two of the latter were surprisingly sizable at 20 and 23-inches-long. All catfish were released.
– Peter Park, Elliana Park

[A measurable dichotomy has developed in the estuary in the last decade or so between channel catfish and the native white catfish. Channel catfish have been displacing white catfish in the freshwater reach by out-competing (channel catfish have a more flexible ability to adapt to available resources). However, channel catfish seem to have more of a preference for freshwater. As a result, white catfish have found a bit of a refuge in downriver brackish water.

The catalyst has been the salinity in the Tappan Zee. During six weeks of March and April, salinity bottomed out in the Tappan Zee at 0.2 ppt (background noise). Thus, channel catfish were comfortable. As summer approaches, the river warms, input from upriver sources lessens, and salinity rises, channel catfish may become less common in the Tappan Zee. Tom Lake]

4/26 – 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. On a beautiful spring day, our luck continued with two exciting catches: a small summer flounder (55 mm) and an even smaller lined seahorse (50 mm).
– Toland Kister, Avalon Daly, Siddhartha Hayes

Channel catfish

Channel catfish – courtesy of Peter Park

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:

  • 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.