Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

One of the magical aspects of setting a net, hauling a seine in tidewater, is the knowledge that the river is open to the sea—the possibilities seem endless. This week, for the first time this spring, our catches began to reflect the abundance of pending summer.

Highlight of the Week

5/25 – Rockland County, HRM 25: I took a walk on Piermont Pier early this morning at low tide and luckily came upon a bevy of shorebirds, including two ruddy turnstones, two dunlin, two semipalmated plover, three spotted sandpiper, a semipalmated sandpiper, and a white-rumped sandpiper. All were on the north side gravel bars and mud flats. Later in the evening, another birder found an oystercatcher and a least tern. Several diamondback terrapin were hauled out on the breakwater. Overall, it was a great diversity of spring sightings in one day at the Pier.
– Linda Pistolesi

[The diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is a turtle of salt to brackish water coastal marshes from Cape Cod to Chesapeake Bay. Their common name comes from the diamond-shaped rings on their carapace. There is a remnant population in the estuary at Piermont Marsh and they have been reported as far upriver as Verplanck (river mile 40). There are populations in Jamaica and Raritan bays that may recruit or exchange individual terrapins with Piermont Marsh (river mile 24). Our knowledge of their life history is sketchy so if you see any diamondback terrapins in the estuary, please report the where, when and other particulars to Hofstra University’s Russell Burke, biorlb@nullhofstra.edu. Tom Lake]

Diamondback terrapin

Diamondback terrapin – courtesy of Karalynn Lamb

Natural History Entries

5/25 – Hudson River Watershed: Red fox kits are born not with a red coat, but a charcoal gray coat which they keep for the first month. (Coyote, wolf, and other wild canid pups are also born with this color coat.) At about five weeks of age red fox kits begin to lose their dark natal coat and grow a new one. This second coat is also not the distinct red coat of an adult, but rather a sandy-colored coat that matches the sandy soil of the den site. Now that they are spending time outside the den, but are still defenseless, camouflage is crucial. After five weeks or so, in early June, outer red guard hairs begin to grow through the sandy coat and by the end of June the kits display the bright red coats associated with adult red foxes.
– Mary Holland

Red fox kit

Red fox kit – courtesy of Mary Holland

5/25 – Gardiner, HRM 73: While hiking through the greater foothills of Shawangunk Ridge, I came across a few clusters of the parasitic plant American cancer-root or bear corn (Conopholis americana) popping through the leaf litter surrounding some beech trees. I was delighted to see over two dozen pink lady’s-slippers in flower below a rocky crag as well. It was the largest population of this orchid that I have ever seen in my hikes through the mid-Hudson Valley. Lastly a couple of mountain laurel buds had just opened among a cluster of unopened buds.
– Bob Ottens

[Pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) is a native orchid to eastern North America. Due to the often unbridled zeal of orchid collectors, in the interest of preservation, we never give exact locations where they are found. Tom Lake]

American cancer root

American cancer root – courtesy of Bob Ottens

5/26 – Saugerties, HRM 102: For three years beginning August 5, 2019, and lasting until August 5, 2022 (1,096 days), a young male harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) found an on-and-off refuge in the tidal freshwater Esopus Creek, 110 miles from the open sea. The seal had been flipper-tagged number 2-4-6 by the Mystic Aquarium Animal Rescue Program in 2019 but has likely shed the tag by now.

Recent sightings and corroborations by Saugerties Lighthouse Keeper Patrick Landewe, who faithfully monitored the seal for three years, suggest that the seal may have returned. Current sightings include a video recorded seal sighting at the base of the falls at the head of tide in Esopus Creek, a common spot to find 2-4-6. There are also photos of a seal following a stand-up paddle boarder in the creek acting in what Patrick Landewe characterizes as typical 2-4-6- behavior.

There are many amazing aspects of this saga, enough to fill a book or two. Perhaps the most amazing is having a marine mammal find comfort in a small freshwater tributary so far from the sea for most of three years. As far as we can tell, 2-4-6 was the first historically confirmed harbor seal visitor to Esopus Creek. It would be quite a coincidence to find yet another so soon.

That is where we are right now. If this story develops further, we will keep wayward harbor seal fans apprized in DEC’s Hudson River Almanac.
– Tom Lake

Harbor seal

Harbor seal – courtesy of Derek Brown

5/27 – Orange County, HRM 41: I arrived at 6½ Station Road Sanctuary in Goshen and almost immediately found an adult Little Blue Heron. I was surprised by this, as we have had only one other, an adult, in Orange County that I know of. Another birder, Dave Hultgren, informed me that earlier, he had two adult Little Blue Herons. I walked further up the trail trying to locate the birds. Sure enough, when I found one, I found two!
– Matt Zeitler

Little blue heron

Little Blue Heron – courtesy of Matt Zeitler

Fish of the Week

5/27 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 271 is the American shad (Alosa sapidissima) number 27 (of 237) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com.

American shad is one of nine members of its family, the herrings (Clupeidae), documented for the watershed. Five of which belong to the sub-family Alosine: Atlantic menhaden, alewife, hickory shad, blueback herring, and Atlantic thread herring. American shad is the largest of the river herrings (Alosa sp.). Their body is strongly compressed, bright silvery on the sides, blueish to greenish above, with silvery deciduous scales. Their native range on the east coast stretches from Labrador south to the Saint John’s River in Florida.

Shad are anadromous, in that they spend most of their life in salt water, wintering offshore along the coast south to the Carolinas, but returning to inland freshwater, often their natal river, to spawn. Their popularity as a food fish prompted a successful transport of 35,000 Hudson River shad into the Sacramento River in July 1873, where the species became well established on the West Coast. Their scientific name comes from Latin as Alosa (shad) sapidissima (sapidus = savory).

As the water warms in late March, shad, primarily males, enter the estuary in pulses, each intent on reaching their spawning grounds. The shadbush (Amelanchier sp.) has been, at least colloquially on the East Coast, considered a harbinger of their arrival from the sea. The males, or buck shad, begin nosing up the river, a sinuous journey, that allowed them to slowly acclimate to the lessening salinity. In the weeks that follow, more and more females, or roe shad, ascend the river, all heading above the salt to a 70-mile freshwater spawning reach from Hyde Park to the head of tide at Green Island (Troy). Eventually, the run evens out—similar numbers of bucks and roe—before concluding in late May, dominated by roe shad.

American shad have been an important part of Hudson River lore, legend, history, and culture, beginning in prehistoric times. Archaeological remnants of smoking huts for shad and sturgeon, dating to at least 5,000 years ago, have been excavated along the river. Smoking was a means of extending the shelf life of these springtime protein resource.

Smoking stations and processing refuse middens provide ample evidence that smoked, planked (baked), and pickled shad, have long been springtime favorites in our Hudson Valley. Shad have a well-earned reputation as being a bony and difficult fish to process—they have 769 bones, humans have 208. Pickling shad has long been appreciated as a bone-free product. Perhaps the major attraction with shad, however, has been its eggs: in historic times, shad roe has been a sought-after springtime culinary delight.
– Tom Lake

[Many excellent books have been written on the American shad. One of the best is The Founding Fish (John McPhee 2003), a blend of personal history, natural history, and American history including the shad’s cameo role in the lives of George Washington and Henry David Thoreau. The Founding Fish is a fitting companion to McPhee’s The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1982), an ode to the Common Loon (Gavia immer).

There are also two excellent fictional accounts of American shad’s indelible cultural influence.

– Shad Run by Howard Breslin (1955)
Set just six years after the American Revolution (1788), this is a story of remembrances. It tells of a time on the Hudson River in the “Town” of Poughkeepsie when spotters went up on Blue Point (400-foot elev.) in spring as lookouts for the possibility that British warships that might come up the river. Drifting down the river at the same time were hand-crafted wooden shad boats working the ebb tide every day with a weather eye for lantern-lit warning signals from Blue Point. Back in Poughkeepsie, fishmongers loaded their wagons and walked the streets selling fresh American shad.

 Shad Haul by Paul Corey (1947)
The story takes place on the Hudson River in Philipsville (a thinly veiled Cold Spring) and the Philipsville High School (Haldane High School) in post-World War II Putnam County. Two high school students join as apprentices with a couple of rugged river men to drift their shad nets in the shadow of the Hudson Highlands.]

[American shad stocks are managed through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Due to significant declines in coastal landings of American shad, ASMFC recommended a closure of all ocean fishing in 2005. Shortly after, the 2007 ASMFC stock assessment indicated the Hudson River American shad population was severely depleted from overharvesting prompting a complete closure of recreational and commercial fishing in the Hudson River in 2010. Since the closure, the Hudson River population remains depleted based on findings from the most recent 2020 ASMFC benchmark stock assessment.

On March 23, 2024, DEC released the final Recovery Plan for Hudson River American Shad. This plan outlines the efforts undertaken to recover the stock since its collapse and develops a transparent and science-based roadmap for re-opening the shad fisheries. The success of this plan could renew our culinary relationship with shad. NYSDEC]

American shad

American shad – courtesy of Gregg Kenney

5/28 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 66: For more than a month we have heard foxy sounds coming from the half-acre woods behind our home (our “Back Forty”). If we took note at dawn and dusk, we’d see a brilliant flash of orange as mama passed between the leafed-out saplings, bushes, and brush.

Twice in recent years we have had a fox den (repurposed woodchuck dens) and watched as the 3-4 kits grew, became bolder in their mini-travels, until one night mama soundlessly collected them all for a move to a new location. We likely had a den this year as well, much better concealed, and by now mama and her kits were elsewhere.
–  Tom Lake

5/28 – Putnam County, HRM 46.5: Bald eagle nest NY527 is located on the Hudson River at Manitou in southern Putnam County. I have taken to keeping tabs on the nest each season albeit from quite a distance and never with a fully unobstructed view. This spring, before I lost the nest to the leaves, the nest seemed good with the adult pair bringing food to the nest. Still, I was unable to count heads. I’ll keep an eye out for young learning to fly in July.
– Scott Craven

5/29 – Little Stony Point, HRM 55: A month ago we began running into pulses of young-of-year bay anchovies (25-30 mm), in from the sea, with our nets. Today, those 25-30 mm young-of-year had become 50 mm. Yet, our seine was also filled with a new cohort of anchovies (20-25 mm). They were small enough to require a peek under the microscope for identification to find that disengaged plankton-gathering lower jaw.

We had quite a gathering of onlookers and a little prospecting uncovered some small (10 mm) clam shells. These were Atlantic rangia (Rangia cuneata), native to the Gulf of Mexico and introduced to the northeast Atlantic Coast. Completing our catch was a dozen yearling striped bass around 71-75 millimeters (mm), and one frisky elver (American eel). The river was 70 degrees Fahrenheit (F).
– Tom Lake, Seth Dinitz, Danielle Han, Brielle Kaiser, Corin Clark

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

American eel

American eel – courtesy of Tom Lake

5/29 – Piermont Pier, HRM 25: Our Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory’s Hudson River Field Station team hosted a field trip with the Leffell School from White Plains. While seining, our catch included an abundance of blue crabs (49). Our high count with fish was Atlantic silverside (7). We also caught a single striped bass and, surprisingly, an Atlantic tomcod. Salinity was measured at 9.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt), the water temperature was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 7.0 parts-per-million (ppm).
– Connor Goranson

American tomcod

American tomcod – courtesy of Connor Goranson

5/29 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak welcomed to the Hudson River for the second time, a second-grade class from Hostos School in Yonkers. We set our seine into a mid-tide and made a dozen hauls.

Our spring run of young-of-year bay anchovies continued (89) as high count. Look-alike young-of-year Atlantic menhaden was next (6). After serving as an almost “lost species” in the estuary for a decade or more, Atlantic tomcod (4) showed up again today (8 for the month). White perch, blue crabs, sand shrimp, and comb jellies competed a well-diversified catch. The river was 71 degrees F, salinity was 8.1 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 7.2 ppm.
– Emily Orr, Katie Lamboy, Zoe Wolf, Aika Lankard, Olivia Love

[Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod) has made a modest but noticeable showing this month in the greater estuary: May 16 in the East River, May 21 at Yonkers, May 29 at Yonkers, and May 29 at Piermont (river mile 25).

5/30 – Governors Island, Manhattan: The Billion Oyster Project is headquartered on Governors Island in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. Our staff and interns made our weekly check on the eleven minnow pots we deploy off Pier 101. Today our traps held a tautog (blackfish), a young of year (50 mm), as well as two very closely related cunners, both Wrasses (Labridae), 70, 95 mm.
– Natalie Kim, Madison O’Brien, Omisha Hossain

5/30 – Hudson River Watershed: More on the red fox. Red fox kits are emerging from their dens to explore their world, after being kept inside with their mama nursing for the first 4-5 weeks of life. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of the most widely distributed members of the order Carnivora. They are found across the Northern Hemisphere including most of North America, Europe and Asia, plus parts of North Africa. They share their sub-family, Caninae (from Latin canis meaning “dog”) with domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, and coyotes. The male foxes are called dogs, females vixens, and young cubs are known as kits. The species primarily feeds on small rodents, though it may also target rabbits, squirrels, game birds, reptiles, and invertebrates. As with reptiles and amphibians, we understand that vehicular traffic can represent danger for wildlife. Red fox and their kits may use roads to cross from denning sites to foraging locations. Cautious driving habits can save many forms of wildlife that are just trying to cross the road.
– Tom Lake

Red fox

Red fox – courtesy of Mary Holland

5/31 – Hyde Park, HRM 82: I visited the beach at Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park today and photographed a cluster of mollusks, each about the size of a fingernail, that were exposed due to the low tide. What were they?
– Ken Hegle

[These were zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), a small nonnative freshwater bivalve native to Europe that came to North America about forty years ago in the ballast water of cargo vessels. They first appeared in the Hudson River in May 1991 and quickly became a major component of the river’s biomass. Their consumption of phytoplankton and zooplankton created a serious problem for other river life that were dependent on these microscopic forms as forage. For status on zebra mussels, visit the USGS Non-Indigenous Species website. Tom Lake]

Zebra mussels

Zebra mussels – courtesy of Tom Lake

5/31 – Beacon, HRM 61: I caught and released, after measuring (14-18-inches), three channel catfish during a four-hour fishing session today at Long Dock Park. As the incoming tide crested in late afternoon, it was non-stop small catfish hitting my bait, sometimes stealing the bait or spitting the hook on the way in. They were biting even before I was able to reattach the warning bell to my rod. This validates the notion that fish sometimes feed in time-windows; chumming can be largely ineffective until the fish show up on their own schedule.
– Bill Greene

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:

  • 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.