Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

In the first week of May, it is easy to feature orioles as they add incredible color to backyards, fields, and forests. Daylight is arriving earlier each morning and being awakened by birdsong becomes one of the joys of spring.

Highlight of the Week

5/9 – Albany, HRM 145: Using cut bait (river herring), we were drift-fishing and doing well in the Hudson River near Albany. We hooked, landed, and released two striped bass (30 and 32-inches), as well as an impressive freshwater drum (12 lb.). 
– William Perry

[Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) is the only member of its family (Sciaenidae) in North America to occur completely in freshwater habitats. They are a non-native fish having reached our watershed via canals from the Midwest (Great Lakes). Their Type site is the Ohio River. Tom Lake]

Freshwater drum

Freshwater drum – courtesy of William Perry

Natural History Entries

5/4 – Hudson River Watershed: The peak of gray treefrog courtship and breeding occurs in another month, but males are already actively calling near bodies of water. Frogs are highly sensitive to motion so visual cues play an important part in their courtship.

Male gray treefrogs are significantly more likely to give their musical, bird-like courtship calls when they can see an approaching female, and their calls are longer if females are nearby and within sight. This is a good thing, as research has found that female gray treefrogs choose mates based on advertisement calls and prefer long calls to short calls. (To hear a gray treefrog calling, go to Lang Elliot Music of Nature website, scroll down to “Gray Treefrog,” and press play. Spring peepers and green frog are in the background.)
– Mary Holland

Gray treefrog

Gray treefrog – courtesy of Mary Holland

5/4 – Town of Poughkeepsie: One of the adults from bald eagle nest NY62 was not much more than a dot in the sky. Its broad wings spread flat in the face of a south wind, held in place without stirring a feather a mile over the nest, it was in perfect equilibrium.

I wondered if this was a performance of a kind since the pair’s single nestling appears to have not survived. This was only the pair’s sixth failed nest in 24 years. We estimate that the female of the pair is at least 30 years old, and further wondered if her viability was waning.
– Tom Lake

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

5/5 – Hudson River Watershed: Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is immediately recognizable by its large, flat plates of bark that curl away from its trunk, giving the tree a shaggy appearance. Its attributes are well known. Shagbark Hickory nuts are sweet and edible (to humans and wildlife). The tough but flexible wood is used for sporting equipment, tool handles, ladders, and flooring, and it’s a source of high-quality charcoal for smoking bacon, ham and other meats. But to me, its most outstanding feature is on display right now, as the scales on its swollen buds open and fold back, petal-like, revealing new foliage that will soon expand into large, compound leaves.
– Mary Holland

Shagbark hickory - courtesy of Mary Holland

Shagbark hickory – courtesy of Mary Holland

5/6 – Saugerties, HRM 102: Orioles cannot resist grape jelly. I typically set out a couple of orange halves to get their attention when they first arrive in spring. Once they find the jelly, they infrequently feed on suet and pretty much ignore the oranges and nectar feeders. Both Baltimore (Icterus galbula) and orchard orioles (I. spurius) regularly visit my feeders, and the jelly seems to keep the local breeding pairs coming back until they have weaned their young (typically early July).

Catbirds, mockingbirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and several other regular feeder species also go for the jelly, but I find it interesting that my breeding pair of brown thrashers ignore the jelly and suet, but come to the feeders throughout the day to feed on cracked corn. They typically raise two broods, bringing their young to the feeders when they are roughly the same size as the adults, but I have only seen them feed their young the cracked corn.
– Steve M. Chorvas

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole – courtesy of Susan Otto

5/6 – Little Stony Point, HRM 55: We had high hopes for a good catch this morning that were never realized. One of the charms of working the river’s tidewater is that nothing is ever scripted. No guarantees. Until we beach the seine, just 62 miles from the open sea, all things are possible. And then we get to seine another day.

What we failed to find in our net was more than made up for by two adult male Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula). This is a bird, particularly the males, that you often spot without having to see them straight on. It is difficult to miss their striking presence even on the periphery, even in woodlands.

I remember being on this beach 20 years ago. Just as we hauled our seine up on the sand, a male Baltimore oriole came to the water’s edge, walked in a few feet, doused itself and shook—an orange-and-black blur—like a bird in a paint mixer. That single moment has lingered on this beach for us every spring.
– Tom Lake, Seth Dinitz

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole – courtesy of Tom Lake

[“The flash of an oriole is like a burst of fire!” Aldo Leopold]

[Orioles returning from their wintering locations is something we look for every spring, almost always in the first week of May along the estuary. Both Baltimore and bullocks (Icterus spurius) orioles winter from Mexico south through Central America and into northern South America from northern Venezuela to Columbia. Others winter in the West Indies from Jamaica to Cuba. Like monarch butterflies, they tend to show fidelity toward previous wintering locations. With the onset global warming, an increasing number of orioles are choosing to winter in the southern U.S. (Flood 2009).]

5/6 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 16 northward bound raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Broad-winged hawk was high count with nine. Osprey and sharp-shinned hawk were next, with three each. Among non-raptor migrants, turkey vulture was high count with 30. Of the few raptors that came to the great horned owl-decoy, there was a feisty-as-usual merlin and several also-feisty sharp-shinned hawks. Our thanks to Steve Sachs who provided a new high pole for the watch.
– Tom Fiore

5/6 – 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 in Hudson River Park as part of our fish ecology survey. Catch of the day included one American eel (250 mm) and one naked goby (40 mm). 
– Sierra Drury, Zoe Kim, Laila Ortiz, Maggie Zhen

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

5/7 – Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: We hosted a class of eighth-graders from Marlboro (Orange County) this morning on board the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. With our otter trawl, we managed a “Four Horsemen of the Hudson” kind of catch: four fishes, four species, each seemingly having fought a war.

They were an American eel, a channel catfish, a white perch, and a hogchoker all with some preexisting wounds including scars, perhaps vestiges from an encounter with a predator, and other maladies. The tidewater Hudson can be a rough place for wildlife, albeit this catch was only a minute sample from an otherwise healthy ecosystem. The hallmark of healthy Hudson River’s aquatic life is their resiliency.
– Chloe Grey Smith 

Fish of the Week

5/7 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 268 is the channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), fish number 81 (of 237), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com.

Channel catfish is one of eight North American Catfishes (Ictaluridae) documented for our watershed. White catfish, tadpole madtom, and margined madtom are native. The others, including channel catfish, were introduced or were canal immigrants from the Great Lakes and Mississippi watershed. Their native range includes all mid-America from southern Canada, as far west as eastern Colorado (Trautman 1981), south to Mexico and also includes some watersheds of the Southeast.

Adult channel catfish are largely omnivorous favoring fish among a broad menu of aquatic life. They are a late-spring, early summer spawner. Light blue-gray juveniles have distinct black fin margins and are often spotted in a very trout-like pattern — an altogether handsome little fish. Their spots disappear as adults, and they become much darker.

Channel catfish can exceed three-feet in length and 50 lb. The New York State angling record is 35 lb. 12 oz. from the Black River in Jefferson County (May 2022). In addition to goldfish, channel catfish are another bald eagle favorite.

There has been a recent and notable shift in the native estuarine population of white catfish. The white catfish has slowly become far less common, particularly in freshwater, due to ecological pressure (competition) from the nonnative channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus).

In the field, channel catfish can be confused with white catfish (Ameiurus catus). The former has a deeply forked tail while white catfish has a less forked, more of a “bullhead” squared off, caudal fin. Chin barbels, while not definitive, can often be a quick identification: White catfish chin barbels are pale to white, while those of channel catfish are darker and mottled (C.L. Smith 1990).

Even within the species, field identification of channel catfish has long been recognized as potentially problematic. Ichthyologist J. P. Kirtland (1850) commented, “That because of morphological and color differences in this species, resulting from age, sex, and habitat, it would be an easy matter to manufacture half a dozen new species from the varieties captured in one haul of a seine.” Kirtland recognized the fish as a sub-species, the northern channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus punctatus).

Additional resources on Ictalurus punctatus in their native range include Fishes of the Great Lakes Region, Hubbs & Lagler (1947) and Fishes of Ohio, Milton Trautman (1981)

Among the Mohican people, whose homeland lies wholly within the Hudson River watershed, the generic word for native catfish is Stãabaw. Today, that would apply to the channel catfish as well.
– Tom Lake

Channel catfish

Channel catfish – courtesy of Tom Lake

5/7 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh at low tide to check our fyke net. Glass eel numbers continued to wane suggesting the season, that began on January 31, was nearing its conclusion. Other river life in the fyke included grass shrimp and mud crabs. The water temperature was 58 degrees Fahrenheit (F), the salinity was 6.4 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.5 parts per-million (ppm). 
– Jason Muller

5/8 – Town of Poughkeepsie: A gorgeous eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) was halfway across our busy road this morning. Having nearly run over her and seeing two other cars nearly hit her, I put on the flashers and helped her reach the grassy area where she’d been headed. Egg-laying season for box turtles is almost here.

This species of turtle might be common to native New Yorkers but as a formerly life-long Californian, I’d never seen one like it before.
– Shirley Freitas

Eastern box turtle

Eastern box turtle – courtesy of Shirley Freitas

5/8 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak returned to our tidemarsh at high tide today to check our fyke net. We struggled to find two glass eels in the cod end of the fyke net. The best example of our meager catch was that amphipods (Gammarus sp.) was high count with 24. Grass shrimp and mud crabs completed our catch. The water temperature was 59 degrees F, the salinity had fallen to 3.4 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.6 ppm. 
– Jason Muller, Jack Bakal

5/8 – 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 in Hudson River Park as part of our fish ecology survey. Today’s catch included an American eel (250 mm), a black sea bass (70 mm), a tautog (350 mm), a lined seahorse (60 mm), and a handsome oyster toadfish (260 mm). 
– Zoe Kim, Brandon Campos, Renee Mariner, Laila Ortiz, Maggie Zhen

[You will notice that throughout many entries in the Almanac, especially those reporting fish catches, that we supply the total length in millimeters (one-inch equals 25.4 millimeters). By doing so, readers can visualize the relative size of fishes, for example, from young-of-year, to juveniles, to adults, providing a more accurate mind’s-eye image. Tom Lake]

5/9 – Hudson River Watershed: One of the signs of late spring is the appearance of Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) along upland roadsides the Hudson River and its tributaries. This naturalized wildflower is native to Eurasia and brought to North America in the 17th century. After more than 300 years, Dame’s Rocket has become a naturalized “citizen,” much like the dandelions and common carp. Also known as Maid-of-the-Evening, it comes in white, pink, violet, and purple. Its wonderfully sweet fragrance, carried by spring breezes, fills the air from mid-May through early June. 
– Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson, B.J. Jackson

Dame's rocket

Dame’s rocket – courtesy of Tom Lake

5/9 – 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 to check our fyke net. Glass eel numbers (5) continued to teeter close to none, but otherwise the catch reflected the river life at hand: a blue crab, grass shrimp, a mummichog, and an Atlantic herring. The water temperature finally touched 60 degrees F, the salinity was 5.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.3 ppm. 
– Jason Muller, Hamima Hossain, Cristal Soriano

Later in the day, with the help of a second-grade class from the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx, We made eight hauls of our 30-foot beach seine. The students were amazed, as we hauled the net ashore, at the number and variety of river life that seconds before was invisible to them.

Seven young-of-season blue crabs (10-50 mm) were high count. Among the fishes, we caught our first bay anchovies (5) of the year (70-95 mm), two white perch (160-180 mm), and a first young-of-the-year Atlantic menhaden (30 mm). The water temperature was 60 degrees, the salinity was 4.2 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.4 ppm.
– Amy Lienert, Jason Muller, Suzy Schwimmer

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

5/9 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We counted 12 northward bound raptors today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch. Broad-winged hawk and sharp-shinned hawk were co-high count with five. The final two raptors were bald eagles. Among non-raptor migrants, black vulture was high count with nine.

The raptors were not fooled by the rather strong northwest, showing up in rather moderate numbers. A strong showing was also put up by the black vultures.
– Raimund Miller

5/10 – 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 to check our fyke net. Glass eel numbers (6) were holding steady at “barely there.” Invertebrates completed the catch with grass shrimp and Gammarus sp. (Amphipod). The water temperature was 60 degrees F, the salinity was 3.9 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.3 ppm. 
– Jason Muller, Diane McKay

Lined seahorse

Lined seahorse – courtesy of Chris Bowser

5/10 – 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 in Hudson River Park as part of our fish ecology survey. It was a wet and overcast day as Staff checked our gear. The catch was small, but very special, including a lined seahorse (85 mm) and an oyster toadfish (180 mm). 
– Toland Kister, Avalon Daly

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole – courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

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
  • July 13, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.: Animal Saturday

Hudson River Lesson Plans

Explore our collection of Hudson River lesson plans, videos and online activities to support hand on investigations of the Hudson River in your classroom.

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.