Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

Warming May air temperatures and rising salinity were invigorating the river’s tidewater ushering in both increased numbers of fish and species diversity from the East River to the Hudson Highlands. In the air, the watershed seemed, by now, to be approaching its full complement of breeding songbirds.

Highlight of the Week

5/13 – Orange County, HRM 40: Karen Miller reported finding a glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) today at Beaver Pond near Glenmere Lake. Linda Scrima ran for the bird, and she not only got the ibis, but he also located a tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor). I ran for the bird after work, and fortunately the heron was still present. The heron was a little distant, but views in my scope were spectacular. It was a little jarring to see this beautiful bird right here in Orange County. Unfortunately, the bird flew, heading south in early evening. This is only the second documented siting of this species in Orange County. The previous tricolored heron was found by Ken McDermott in Cornwall Bay in 1982. Congratulations to Linda Scrima on another great find.
– Matt Zeitler

[The tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor) is uncommon to rare in the Northeast. They are common but with restricted range in the southeastern U.S., mainly along the coast. More widespread in Central America and northern South America (eBird). Dutchess County has three known records occurring from 1978-2019 (Stan DeOrsey).]

Tricolored heron

Tricolored heron – courtesy of Matt Zeitler

Natural History Entries

5/11 – Manhattan, HRM 13.5: During spring songbird migration Inwood Hill park comes to life as warblers and other migrants including indigo buntings and scarlet tanagers arrive. Many years ago, the indigo buntings nested in the northwest end of the park in a meadow. New York City Parks did some renovations to the meadow and the indigo buntings have not nested there since. However, there is some promising news. A molting male indigo bunting has been spotted and singing in the same location for several weeks. Hopefully, he will find a mate and nest in the park. 
– Wandermann

Indigo bunting

Indigo bunting – courtesy of Norm Townsend

Fish of the Week

5/12 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 269 is the Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus), number 218 (of 237, on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com

The Spanish mackerel is one of two members of its family (Scombridae) in the watershed. The more common species in the New York Bight is the Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus). Spanish mackerel is found along the east coast from Cape Cod to Florida but tend to be less common north of Chesapeake Bay. Commonly getting to 11 lbs., they can reach 13 lbs. and 30-inches, feeding small fish, shrimp, and squid.

At one time, Spanish mackerel were summer spawners in “tidal estuaries” from Cape Cod to the Carolinas” (Earl 1882). They were also among the “most important commercial fishes in the north Atlantic with market-size fish of 1¼ – 4 lbs.” (Hildebrand and Schroeder 1928). Today, commonly referred to as the South Atlantic stock, Spanish mackerel are sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under Federal regulations (NOAA).

Spanish mackerel was added to our Hudson River list of fishes in summer 1989, in the midst of a hundred-year drought that warmed the river and increased the salinity, with two collected in the Tappan Zee (river mile 28).

For the next decade, Spanish mackerel were uncommon to rare in the estuary. Then, on August 25, 1999, legendary riverman Bob Gabrielson was working short gill nets under the Tappan Zee Bridge (river mile 27) intending to catch Atlantic menhaden to bait his blue crab pots. He found two adult Spanish mackerel in one net, each 25-inches-long and weighing 4.0 lbs. The river was a warm 78 degree Fahrenheit(F) and somewhat salty at 12.8 parts-per-thousand (ppt).

Twenty years later, September 3, 2019, with Spanish mackerel continuing to be uncommon to rare in the estuary, DEC Region 3 Hudson River Fisheries Unit caught five young-of-year Spanish mackerel in their seine at Philipse Manor (HRM 28). The salinity was 8.4 ppt.
-Tom Lake

Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerel – courtesy of Tom Lake

5/13 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Our River Project Staff checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy from Pier 40 and Pier 26 in Hudson River Park as part of our ongoing fish ecology survey. Staff collected one gorgeous black sea bass (85 mm), one-lined seahorse (70 mm), and a handsome adult oyster toadfish (275 mm). 
– Avalon Daly, Sierra Drury

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

5/13 – Governors Island, Manhattan: Our Billion Oyster Project staff and interns checked the eleven minnow pots we deploy off Pier 101 in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. Our traps had caught a black sea bass (57 mm), an exotic feather blenny (66 mm), a skillet fish (62 mm), and an Atlantic herring (50 mm). 
– Natalie Kim, Madison O’Brien, Omisha Hossain

Feather blenny

Feather blenny – courtesy of Zoe Kim

5/14 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: It was barely first light, but it was already delightfully mild, a cool, spring warmth. And it was noisy! We were emulating one of ecologist Aldo Leopold’s favorite practices: listening to the woods awaken. While it is true that a few birds seem to chirp all night, the rising crescendo of birdsong began this morning in the last moments of darkness, just before first light, mostly with robins, and soon joined by tufted titmice, black-capped chickadee, gray catbird, Carolina wren, wood thrush, orioles, and several others. A while later, blue jays and cardinals added deep resonant tones. What had begun as melodious music evolved into many melodies, all stepping on and singing over one another. It reminded me of an orchestra “tuning up” before a performance. 
– Tom Lake

[See the “Great Possessions” chapter in Aldo Leopold’s classic Sand County Almanac (1949) for a full rendition, beautifully done. Tom Lake]

Carolina wren

Carolina wren – courtesy of Debbie Quick

5/14 – Little Stony Point, HRM 55: We had another weak showing today, which was surprising given the season, the water temperature (63 degree F), and the tide. Young-of-year Atlantic menhaden (20-25 mm) showed up in small numbers, as well as a dozen or more striped bass (76-77 mm). High count easily went to spottail shiner, most of which were gravid females. 
– Tom Lake, Seth Dinitz, Mike Saleh

Spottail shiners

Spottail shiners – courtesy of Tom Lake

5/14 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, with much assistance from a third-grade class from P.S. 30 in Yonkers, took our 30-foot seine to the beach at low tide for a dozen hauls. While we caught six species of fish, high count of the catch (25) went to blue crabs (10-70 mm). Among fishes, bay anchovy (18), Atlantic herring (12), six Atlantic menhaden (35-45 mm), striped bass (80-100 mm), white perch (70-170 mm), and a 22-inch American eel completed a dazzling display for the students. Other invertebrates included grass shrimp and one soft-shell clam (Mya arenaria).

The water temperature was 60 degrees F, the salinity was 3.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.6 parts per-million (ppm).
– Emily Orr, Jason Muller, Suzy Schwimmer

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

5/15 – Yonkers, HRM 18: This afternoon, with energetic help from a third-grade class from P.S. 30 in Yonkers, we took our 30-foot seine to the beach at low tide for a dozen hauls. We caught six fish species, including high count (25) Atlantic menhaden (35-50 mm). Other fishes included Atlantic herring (17), three young-of-year summer flounder (25-30 mm), bay anchovies (6), mummichogs (2), and one American eel (27-inches).

Among invertebrates were (49) grass shrimp, (37) blue crabs (10-90 mm) and two more soft-shell clams. The water temperature was 60 degrees, the salinity was 3.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.6 ppm.
– Emily Orr, Jason Muller, Amy Lienert

5/15 – Hudson River Watershed: The color of many of the tender, young leaves on shrubs and trees that are emerging at this time of year have a reddish tint. The red color of many spring leaves is due to the same pigments responsible for the brilliant reds of autumn, the anthocyanins. This spring coloration is temporary; eventually, as they produce the green pigment chlorophyll necessary for photosynthesis, the leaves turn green. There must be a reason for this phenomenon, and several theories have been proposed.

Researchers have found that young oak leaves (quite red) are attacked less by insects than young green leaves. The red coloration of young leaves contains high concentrations of tannins and anthocyanins which together may act as a defense against herbivorous insects. It has also been suggested that the anthocyanins may help the leaves withstand cold, screen them from damaging ultraviolet rays, as well as air pollution.
-Mary Holland

Red oak leaves - courtesy of Mary Holland

Red oak leaves – courtesy of Mary Holland

5/16 – Essex County, HRM 284: I’ve been hearing a common loon on Minerva Lake for several weeks now. I am also hearing mystery squeaks, snuffling sounds, and foxy grunts under a structure out back. The habitat looks good—two roughened ground entrances, I like the red fox possibility. Nothing in the last couple of days but I’m listening.

A bonus came when I identified a Lincoln’s sparrow singing in an apple tree next to an open field. At first, I was unsure of the species, but I hit the Merlin app. and there it was. Merlin is free app (application) from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that can help you to identify birds.
– Mike Corey

Lincoln's sparrow

Lincoln’s sparrow – courtesy of Jay McGowan

5/16 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67.5: On this day in 2018, high winds from a storm destroyed bald eagle nest NY459, in its first season along the south side of the tidal Wappinger Creek, and a pair of 42-day-old nestlings fell 75 feet to the ground. Thanks to a quick response by Gary and Mauricette Char Potthast, Meghan Oberkircher, and Annie Mardiney, wildlife rehabilitators responded almost immediately and rescued the nestlings—they survived.

Undeterred by the drama and violence, forty days later the adult pair of eagles from NY459 began the rebuilding process. We often speak of how resilient bald eagles seem to be, and this was a prime example. Their genes of resiliency must be passed on; in seven breeding seasons, the adult pair have had thirteen nestlings.
– Tom Lake

[A microburst is a localized column of sinking air (downdraft) within a thunderstorm and is usually less than 2.5 miles in diameter. Wind speeds in microbursts can exceed 100 mph, equivalent to an EF-1 tornado. National Weather Service]

5/17 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak made a beach seining run today, charged by the enthusiasm of a second-grade class from Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx. Across ten hauls, high count went to a dozen young-of-year Atlantic menhaden. Other fishes included bay anchovies, mummichogs, white perch, and Atlantic silverside. Among invertebrates were blue crabs and both sand and shore shrimp. The water temperature was 60 degrees F, the salinity was 4.1 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.7 ppm. 
– Emily Orr, Christina Edsall, Suzy Schwimmer

5/16 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Our River Project Staff checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy from Pier 40 and Pier 26 in Hudson River Park as part of our ongoing fish ecology survey.

Staff collected one American eel (300 mm), one blue crab (10 mm) and two oyster toadfish (235-295 mm). Of the over 2,500 toadfish we have collected as part of our ongoing fish ecology survey that has been running for more than three decades, today’s 295 mm toadfish is in the top five of the largest ever collected.
– Toland Kister, Siddhartha Hayes

Oyster toadfish

Oyser toadfish – courtesy of Chris Bowser

5/16 – Brooklyn, New York City: Today was our first seining event of the season at Brooklyn Bridge Park on the Pier 4 Beach along the East River. We were concerned that we might not catch much to show students. It turned out; however, we netted a couple of surprises.

The most abundant species caught were shrimp (at least 100), an evenly divided mix of shore shrimp and sand shrimp. Among fishes, we caught many young-of-year Atlantic menhaden (30-40 mm) and one juvenile Atlantic tomcod (50 mm). Our most unique catch, however, was glass eels (immature American eels)—13 glass eels was a new sight for many of us. We also caught a small (10 mm) blue crab.

This was the first time we used our new nets, one of which has a mesh size of 1/16-inch, much smaller than we’ve ever used before. We speculated that the abundance of shrimp, eels, and small fish had a lot to do with the net.
– Christina Tobitsch, Haley McClanahan, Laura Waterbury

Atlantic menhaden

Atlantic menhaden – courtesy of Christina Tobitsch

5/17 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak conducted two seining samples of the river today. The first was at low tide this morning, six hauls that produced a nice mix of fish and invertebrates. Many of the fish were young-of-year including Atlantic herring, Atlantic menhaden (40-50 mm), and bay anchovy (70-90 mm), and a yearling striped bass (70 mm). Grass shrimp (18) was high count among invertebrates along with four blue crabs (10-20 mm). The water temperature was 60 degrees, the salinity was 3.9 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.5 ppm.

In midday, our research and education team conducted our second seining sample of the day, this one made special by the efforts of a fourth-grade class from P.S. 5 in Yonkers.

The species diversity we enjoyed with our morning haul continued much to the delight of the students. Ten hauls of our seine produced five fish species; the most unexpected was two 15-inch white suckers (Catostomus commersoni). Periods of very low salinity this spring may have lured these primarily freshwater fishes into the mildly brackish Tappan Zee. Other fishes included Atlantic menhaden, bay anchovy, white perch, and one American eel (170 mm). The presence of tiny young-of-year blue crabs (10-30 mm) was increasing. The water temperature was 61 degrees F, the salinity was 4.2 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.7 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Emily Orr, Christina Edsall, Suzy Schwimmer, Olivia Love, Aika Lankard, Diane McKay, Sarah Babyak

White sucker

White sucker – courtesy of Brian Gratwicke

5/17 – Hudson River Watershed: The northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) is a large, non-venomous, and common native snake. They can grow to nearly five-feet-long and are found in and around almost any water body or wetland where they feed heavily on fish and amphibians, swallowing their prey alive.

They are active both day and night.  During the day they cruise along the surface of the water with just their head above the surface as they search along the water’s edge looking for small fish, tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, crayfish, leeches, and large insects, among other aquatic prey. If the sun is out, however, you’re more likely to see them congregate and bask on rocks, river or pond banks, cattail stems, overhanging brush or, on a beaver lodge.

In the spring, they bask most of the day. In early summer, they tend to bask just in the morning, and by late summer they bask only in the early morning.
– Tom Tyning

Northern water snake

Northern water snake – courtesy of Nancy Beard

5/17 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak visited our tidemarsh at low tide today to check our glass eel fyke net. The cod end of the net appeared, at first, to be free of the translucent, nearly invisible glass eels. Yet, we did find just one. Young-of-year Atlantic menhaden (19) made up most of our catch. The water temperature was 60 degrees, the salinity was 3.9 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.6 ppm. 
–  Jason Muller, Diane McKay, Sarah Babyak, Olivia Love, Aika Lankard

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet tanager – courtesy of Wandermann

Spring 2024 Natural History Programs and Events

Saturday, June 1: World Fish Migration Lower Hudson & Harbor Fish Count

World Fish Migration Day (WFMD) is a global celebration to create awareness about the importance of migratory fish and free-flowing rivers. On World Fish Migration Day, organizations from around the world coordinate their own event around the common theme of: Connecting Fish, Rivers, and People. Environmental organizations of the Lower Hudson and Harbor have come together to put on our own family-friendly, free fishing events for the public to engage in the wonders of the Hudson River!

Event times vary by site (Piermont to Staten Island), so please check the details.

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.