Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

Among a variety of stories, data, and well-described special moments, this week’s Almanac featured students learning the biology and ecology of the river and its watershed.

Highlight of the Week

6/22 – Greene County: A few weeks ago, I reported on a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) nest that I had been observing in Elka Park. The adults, the largest woodpecker in North America, had pecked out a deep cavity in a dead maple. At the time, two small skin-covered heads would emerge at feeding time.

Pileated woodpeckers

Pileated woodpeckers (naked) – courtesy of Mario Meier

Only ten days later these nestling woodpeckers had developed bright, red-feathered bristling caps with the black and white stripes of maturing pileated. On the hot 90-degree days, they hung their heads out the front door looking right and left, giving full throated “cuc-cuc-cuc” calls, shouting for parental feeding.
– Mario Meier

Pileated woodpeckers

Pileated woodpeckers (feathered) – courtesy of Mario Meier

Natural History Entries

6/20 – Brooklyn, New York City: Two days ago, Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy educators endured the heat (91 degrees) to provide East River seining field trip to third and fourth-grade students from Adrian Hegeman P.S. 092 in Brooklyn.

In warm-up hauls prior to the arrival of the students, we caught some of our more classic East River residents, including four Atlantic silverside from 25-85 millimeters (mm), nine Atlantic menhaden, and a tautog (140 mm). To reduce die off, most of the unidentified fish larvae (we suspect they were a mix of menhaden and silverside) were immediately released back into the river.

The most exciting and unexpected catch came once the students arrived. During a demonstration haul before students split into stations for Fish ID, water quality testing, and beach combing, we netted a foot-long American eel! It took the hands of four educators to wrangle it and place it in a bucket to show the students, much to their delight.

Alongside this exciting catch were other more common fish and invertebrates such as the Atlantic tomcod (80 mm), bluefish (70 mm), naked goby (40 mm), as well as mud snails, shore shrimp, and comb jellies. Water temperature was 71 degrees Fahrenheit (F), salinity was 22.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 8.0 parts-per-million (ppm).
– Annabelle Poisson, Christina Tobitsch, Haley McClanahan, Laura Waterbury

[You will notice that throughout many entries in the Almanac, especially those reporting fish catches, that we often supply the total length in 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]

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

American eel

American eel – courtesy of Tom Lake

6/20 – Upper Bay, New York Harbor: On a steamy hot Summer Solstice day—94 degrees F—our Hudson River Sloop Clearwater crew hosted teachers and students from CELF (Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation). Our catch was modest—comb jellies, a lined sea horse, and a small northern pipefish—but the students’ exuberance made the day.

Our recent student programs in the Upper Bay using our otter trawl have been run on the Bay Ridge Flats located just southeast of Governors Island, across Buttermilk Channel, and just offshore of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. With a steady depth of 33-35 feet, this 1.8-mile-long reach is an often-visited location by fisheries researchers. The Flats are a Mecca for otter trawls.
– 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

6/21 – Orange County, HRM 61: If anyone has knowledge of crayfish (see 6/15 – Stewart State Forest), particularly a black crayfish—see photo—please send us your thoughts through the Almanac editor (trlake7@nullaol.com).
– Matt Zeitler

Black crayfish

Black crayfish – courtesy of Matt Zeitler

6/21 – Upper Bay, New York Harbor: Last week we noted a school program aboard the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater when our otter trawl caught a first for us, an inshore longfin squid, Doryteuthis (Amerigo) pealeii. \We caught four of them that day, our first ever, while trawling in the Upper Bay at the Bay Ride Flats. Our audience as well as partners that day was an 11th grade class from the United Nations International School. Other fish in the net were tomcod, winter flounder, and a butterfish.
– Chloe Grey Smith

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

6/22 – Ulster County, HRM 87: A female leucistic northern cardinal has been busy nesting in one of our shrubs in Marbletown. She has been around for a couple of years, is extremely reclusive, and was now incubating two eggs. The male is naturally red-colored.
– Alan R Jones

Northern cardinal

Northern cardinal – courtesy of Alan Jones

6/23 – Greene County: I have had the opportunity to observe a Greene County bald eagle nest (NY215) this spring. The nest is in the Schoharie Creek watershed, a tributary to the Mohawk River, thus the Hudson River. These adults successfully raised three, now fully grown, yet to fledge, young. I pondered the hundreds of pounds of food it took to do this monumental task in the short space of about three months.

While I was watching, an adult flew in with a small mammal that proved to be a young raccoon by the ringed striped tail dangling from the massive yellow talons. The young fledglings whose spread wings easily spanned the six-foot diameter of the nest, eagerly tore into the delivered snack taking turns while the parents watched and called to each other.

Today, one of the three nestlings fledged and flew into the Schoharie Valley below with its abundant streams and lakes. The moment of their first flight must be filled with anxiety: standing on the rim of the nest, taking that first step into open air, totally on instinct that it will turn out well.

The adults task is not over yet—they must teach the young to be eagles and all that goes with that. After seeing some recent nest collapses, it was good to see a successful season for these magnificent birds.
– Mario Meier

Bald eagles

Bald eagles – courtesy of Mario Meier

6/24 – Waterford, HRM 158: I visited bald eagle nest NY485 today on Peebles Island. A couple of weeks ago, I was quite sure there were three nestlings. Today two remained in the nest, looking ready to go. The third seems to have already fledged.
– Howard NY485

[Last year (2023) there were reports of two, even three nestlings, but we only confirmed one. Last June 27, the single nestling became a fledgling. Howard Stoner]

6/24 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak conducted six high-tide seine hauls that were dominated by invertebrates. Blue crab was high count with 15, and included comb jellies, grass shrimp, and moon jellyfish. Among the fish were striped bass, mummichog, and yellow perch. The water temperature was 76 degrees F, salinity was 10.1 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 7.2 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Zoe Wolf, Mireia Rosenblum-Martín, Amber Strumer

6/24 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: River Project Staff went to check our research gear that we deploy off Pier 40 and Pier 26 in Hudson River Park. We found no fish at Pier 26, only invertebrates (grass shrimp, mud crabs, and mud dog whelks). Pier 40 yielded one black sea bass (95 mm) and a lined seahorse (60 mm) from a minnow trap. Invertebrates included a male blue crab (140 mm) and one female blue crab (90 mm) from a crab pot.
– Brian Boston, Toland Kister, Victoria Bayevskiy

Crab pot

Crab pot – courtesy of Tom Lake

6/25 – Hudson River Watershed: Eastern milk snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum) are not venomous. They are harmless, but there are many misconceptions about them. Despite their name (given because their presence in cow barns led people to believe they drank from cow udders), eastern milk snakes feed on mice, not milk. They are often killed because of their resemblance to venomous copperheads. And although they do not resemble rattlesnakes, they are known to vibrate their tails in the leaves when threatened, which also contributes to their untimely death by humans.

These beautiful constrictors (Colubridae) mate soon after emerging from hibernation. An interesting phenomenon occurs with female eastern milk snakes in early summer when they gather at communal egg-laying sites and deposit their eggs within inches of each other. This behavior is unusual for snakes, and why this occurs is not known.
– Mary Holland

Eastern milksnake

Eastern milksnake – courtesy of Mary Holland

6/25 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak conducted eight high-tide seine hauls this morning. Young-of-year Atlantic silverside was a weak high count with ten (25-40 mm), Others included a young-of-year bluefish (80 mm), along with naked goby and mummichog. Invertebrates included blue crab (15-85 mm), grass shrimp, sand shrimp, comb jellies, and moon jellyfish. The water temperature was 75 degrees F, salinity was 9.6 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen was 6.3 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Zoe Wolf, Albina Khabibullina, Logan Roman

Fish of the Week

6/26 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 275 is the bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), number 171 (of 237), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com

Bluefish is a marine species, an apex predator, and are found around the world (circum-global) in many temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters. They are born at sea and are part of a large, loosely-organized, contingent that migrates seasonally from Nova Scotia to Florida following 4-5-mile-long schools of Atlantic menhaden. In the Hudson River, bluefish are considered a permanent/seasonally resident marine species, a designation that stresses seasonally far more so than permanent.

Bluefish surge upriver in summer and their presence is marked by the carnage they leave behind. “Bluefish are legendary for their voraciousness” (CL Smith). Among the most common indicators are schools of herring swimming wildly, leaping out of the water to escape snapping jaws, and gulls and terns screaming overhead from a mass feeding frenzy below. More subtle indicators often follow, such as fish swimming in circles with missing tails, floating bits and pieces of fish, and regurgitated fish-slurry.

Bluefish have been called the “consummate predator,” instinctive, thoughtless slaughtering, cannibalistic killing at a rate far more than any reason.

Young-of-year bluefish are called “snappers,” one of several colloquial names they are given referencing incremental age, size, strength of their jaws, and even disposition. Young-of-year in the Chesapeake (up to about 10-inches) are often called “snapping mackerel.” Yearlings are known as cocktail or tailor blues. Once they reach the 10-12 lb. range, anglers speak of choppers, or slammers. Names like alligator and gorilla blues are reserved for the very largest and meanest of bluefish, weighing as much as twenty pounds or more.

While bluefish are a commercially harvested species, they are far better known as a sportfish. The largest U.S. recreationally-caught bluefish on record was 31 lb. 12 oz. at Cape Hatteras, NC (1972). The New York State record bluefish was 25 lb. at Montauk, Long Island. (1998).

In response to concerns on over harvesting, the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission adopted a Fishery Management plan in 1989 to address population declines. An amendment was added in 1998 marking the start of a long-term plan to restore bluefish through progressive harvest restrictions. That plan was deemed a success by 2009.

We stood on the beach at Sherwood Island in Connecticut several years ago as a school of bluefish (chopper variety) began to herd a huge school of menhaden from just off the beach. When all seemed ready in the collective minds of the bluefish, they tightened the circle. The menhaden, apparently sensing the homicidal vibes, rushed into the shallows. Being bumped by those behind, thousands of menhaden surged up on the beach, across wet sand to dry sand, safely away from the bluefish.

Onlookers reasoned that the menhaden had chosen to die in the sand rather than suffer the relentless attack of the bluefish. I reasoned they were giving the menhaden a bit too much credit. The menhaden were not thinking in any conventional sense. It was not a fight-or-flight response. Their instinct, built on millions of years of such encounters, only knew flight at any cost.   

With thousands of dying menhaden on the beach, anglers were busy filing their bait coolers. The gulls were speechless.  
– Tom Lake

Bluefish

Bluefish – courtesy of Christopher Lake

6/26 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak conducted seven mid-tide seine hauls. We caught “a few of many” fish including mummichogs (41), Atlantic menhaden (2), Atlantic silverside (7), summer flounder (1), and 13 young-of-year striped bass (30-40 mm).

Invertebrates made a good collection including blue crab, grass shrimp, comb jellies, both sand and grass shrimp, and moon jellyfish. The water temperature was 75 degrees F. salinity was 9.7 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 6.7 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Zoe Wolf, Amber Strumer, Mireia Rosenblum-Martín, Albina Khabibullina

6/26 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project staff and Seasonal Staff checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy off Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey. We found only invertebrates at Pier 26, including grass shrimp, amphipods, and mud dog whelks. From a crab pot at Pier 40, we collected a gravid female blue crab (155 mm), that we released back to the river, as well as an immature male blue crab (35 mm). Also in the crab pot was a foot-long tautog (blackfish) and a northern pipefish (145 mm). Invertebrates captured included grass shrimp, mud dog whelks, amphipods, isopods, sand shrimp, and comb jellies (ctenophores).
– Brian Boston, Toland Kister, Victoria Bayevskiy

6/27 – Governors Island, Manhattan: Our Billion Oyster Project staff and interns checked the eight minnow pots we deployed off Pier 101 in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. While our traps were a bit sparse this week, we did collect two cunners (75, 85 mm) and a couple eastern mud snails (Ilyanassa obsoleta), which Jackie Wu (formerly Randall’s Island Park Alliance Staff Naturalist), has described as being “the size of a peanut M&M.”
– Natalie Kim, Robertson Ramos Flores

[Cunner (Tautogolabrus adspersus) is one of two members of the Wrasse family (Labridae) in the estuary and are closely related to tautog or blackfish (Tautoga onitis). Cunner range from Newfoundland to Chesapeake Bay. In New England, where they are the bait-stealing bane of jetty anglers, they are called “chogies.” Local anglers know them, colloquially, as “bergalls.” They are commonly found in the lower estuary and New York Harbor preferring rocky, sheltered areas where they feed on small shellfish and mollusks. Tom Lake]

Cunner

Cunner – courtesy of Zoe Kim

6/28 – Little Stony Point Preserve. HRM 55: Much was going on in the air today at the northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands. A pair of peregrine falcons had nested on Breakneck Ridge, a pair of ravens had done the same on Mount Taurus (Bull Hill) and two adult bald eagles soared in the shadow of Storm King Mountain. An alert Nina Vélez caught sight of a large Atlantic sturgeon breaching the water in mid-channel. Sturgeon do that to replenish their swim bladder with atmospheric oxygen, a rare and serendipitous sight that left Nina nearly speechless: “It was THIS long”—arms totally outstretched and still not enough!

In a delayed response to a week of 90-plus degree air temperatures, the river was a very warm 77 degrees (last year at this time the river was 69 degrees). For the first time this season we caught many young-of-year striped bass (27-42 mm). It was, at least, an early indication of successful recruitment (year-class). And there were some delightful bay anchovies (75 mm) as well. Salinity was barely measurable (~l.0 ppt).
-Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake, Nina Vélez

6/28 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our research and education team at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak conducted six low-tide seine hauls today with spectacular results. Among the eight fish species were young-of-year Atlantic menhaden, Atlantic silverside, striped bass (35-40 mm), and summer flounder. The other four included American eels, hogchoker, mummichog, and yellow perch (a rather new addition to our fish fauna).

Invertebrates included160 grass shrimp (Palaemon sp.), 15 sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa), 17 comb jellies, three moon jellyfish, and six blue crabs [15-120 mm). The water temperature was 76 degrees F, salinity was 9.3 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was 6.7 ppm.
– Jason Muller, Albina Khabibullina, Tess Brady

6/28 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project staff and Seasonal Staff checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy at Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey. We collected a male blue crab (45 mm) from a crab pot at Pier 26, as well as myriad invertebrates (grass shrimp, sand shrimp, mud dog whelks, amphipods, isopods, oyster drills, ribbed mussel, and comb jelly). Among the fish at Pier 40, was a black sea bass (85 mm), as well as invertebrates (grass shrimp, sand shrimp, isopods, and mud dog whelks).
– Brian Boston, Toland Kister, Victoria Bayevskiy

Oyster drill

Oyster drill – courtesy of NOAA

Summer 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:

Animal Saturday: July 13, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Join us for a fun filled Saturday and meet the animals of Norrie Point! This family friendly event will have crafts, and opportunities to explore the center.

NYSDEC Canoe Program: July 30, 10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Paddle the Hudson River estuary with our staff naturalists with free educational canoe trips. Join us to explore tidal marshes, observe birds and wildlife, and discover unique plants. 

These trips are suitable for adults and children (6+), whether you’re an experienced or beginner paddler. The trips leave from two different launch sites in the upper and mid-Hudson Valley. All gear is provided, and registration is required.

Register to attend

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.

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.