Project of the Hudson River Estuary ProgramCompiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

Overview

After many years of sharing the Hudson River’s tidewater with family, friends, students, and colleagues, I have concluded that hauling a seine is like reading a good book. Every day, every tide, every haul, you turn a page and discover something new.

Highlight of the Week

Red-necked phalarope11/21 – Saratoga Lake, HRM 237: I spotted a very cooperative, red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) off Brown’s Beach at Saratoga Lake today. At first, I thought I was looking at one of the dunlin that I had seen in previous days, but with a closer look I realized it was a phalarope. Then, with some consultation and study, a red-necked phalarope. (Photo of red-necked phalarope courtesy of John Hershey)– John Hershey – David Halm

[The red-necked phalarope is a small shorebird with a thin, sharp bill, known for spinning frantically on water to stir up small invertebrates. They breed on Arctic tundra and are seen primarily on the open ocean during migration and winter. eBird]

Natural History Entries

Common grackles11/18 – Greene County: Heading out of the house early one recent morning I was met by a cacophony of sound. A blanket of blackbirds had settled in a row of large old maples. They turned out to be mostly common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula). I estimated their numbers to be in the 8,000 to 10,000 range. Diving from the trees in unified flight onto the lawn below, the flock rolled and twisted in waves, wildly pecking the grass presumably for bugs.

Their numbers also included European starlings, brown-headed cowbirds, and red-winged blackbirds in a mass-flocking, an aerial display called a murmuration. These are a common occurrence for blackbirds during spring and fall migration, an adaptation rooted in the concept of “safety in sheer numbers” to confuse predatory Accipiters (bird hawks).

With the surround sound of their raucous cackling calls, they made a mesmerizing spectacle. Lifting, as if by command, they took to the sky in a swirling shape-shifting cloud. (Photo of common grackles courtesy of Matt Zeitler)– Mario Meier

Blackfish (tautog)11/18 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: On a recent day, our Hudson River Park’s River Project staff checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy off Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey and monitoring. Our search began with little results as there were no fish in our gear at Pier 26, in fact no aquatic life except for mud dog whelks (Nucella lapillus), also known as the Atlantic dogwinkle, a species of predatory sea snail, a carnivorous marine gastropod.

Pier 40 held more promise. There, in addition to grass shrimp, a spider crab, amphipods, and isopods, we found an adult blackfish of 245 millimeters (mm), also known as tautog, in a crab pot. (Photo of blackfish (tautog) courtesy of Zoe Kim)– Stefan Valdez, Vivian Chavez,

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

[Blackfish is a colloquial name for tautog (Tautoga onitis), a rather common, bottom-dwelling fish of New York Harbor. Their common name, blackfish, refers to the adults as they attain a deep and mottled coal black color. Among their favorite foods are shellfish that they find in abundance in near-shore rocky areas. In the spirit of “you are what you eat,” blackfish, perhaps owing to their shellfish diet, are a sought-after food fish. – Tom Lake]

Lapland longspur11/19 – Orange County, HRM 46-41: The birding highlight of the weekend occurred in the county’s agricultural Black Dirt region this morning where, after weeks of trying, I was finally able to get my first Lapland longspur and snow bunting photos of the season. (Photo of lapland longspur courtesy of Matt Zeitler)– Matt Zeitler

[Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) is a common songbird that breeds in the Arctic tundra and winters in open fields across much of the northern United States and southern Canada. They show up in small numbers in our area in winter often in the company of the related snow buntings. Richard Guthrie]

Sandhill crane11/20 – Bedford, HRM 35: Among the 51 south-migrating raptors tallied today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, red-shouldered hawk was high count with 35. The highlight of the day was the two sandhill cranes seen soaring together high to our south. While scanning the blue skies, we also came across four common loon flying very high. There was a noticeable uptick in geese with 587 Canadas and 120 brant. In addition, among non-raptors migrants, we counted 42 turkey vultures. (Photo of sandhill crane courtesy of Tom Hodgson)– Richard Aracil, Pedro Troche

11/20 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: The single south-migrating raptor we counted today at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch was a sharp-shined hawk. Among non-raptor migrants, collectively, turkey vulture (9) and black vulture (5) were high count.– Avril Armstrong

Atlantic menhaden11/21 – Beacon, HRM 61: If studying river life is the goal, tides will often dictate when to be on the beach. Tides are not negotiable. We were on the beach in Long Dock Park at dawn, one that came in breezy and very cold at 25 degrees Fahrenheit (F) without a smidgeon of warmth. At 49 degrees F, the river felt marginally better. Salinity was 2.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt).

We agreed to make three hauls and if nothing showed the gear would be stowed and we’d leave. As the last haul was slid up on the sand it looked empty — no movement. However, in the sand under net’s bag we saw a dozen sluggish, translucent wiggles in the cold air, barely discernable. These were larval fish that had slipped through our quarter-inch mesh. They looked very much like those we had caught five miles and four days earlier downriver at Little Stony Point. These were larval Atlantic menhaden (29-31 mm), seemingly out-of-place. (Photo of Atlantic menhaden with permission by Normandeau Associates)– Tom Lake, Bailey Lake

[A search of the literature for a corollary, a similar estuary, revealed that young-of-year menhaden ascend Chesapeake Bay estuaries in autumn above brackish water. Some ecologists suggest that through the effects of Climate Change, the Hudson River Estuary may be evolving toward an even more temperate environment. Tom Lake]

11/21 – Bedford, HRM 35: Among the 77 south-migrating raptors tallied today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, red-shouldered hawk was high count with 64. Common grackles — massive flocks — totaled at least 5,700 birds among non-raptor migrants. Others included, collectively, turkey vulture (58) and black vulture (3).– Richard Aracil, Barbara Phillips, Kevin McGrath

Ruffed grouse11/22 – Minerva, HRM 284: Recently, Freya and I were out tramping in the woods and heard a familiar “May” spring sound, the drumming display of a male ruffed grouse. This out-of-season occurrence may have been a case of a photo-period response mimicking springtime. We still had a couple of crusty inches of snow in the woods following a full six inches a few days ago. (Photo of ruffed grouse courtesy of Ed Abbott)– Mike Corey

Striped skunk11/22 – Hudson River Watershed: Although striped skunks haven’t entered dens yet, it won’t be long before many of them will. Most females den communally, with up to eleven skunks gathering in an abandoned burrow or similar sheltered spot. Older males often join a group of females; young males tend to den on their own.

Research has shown that survival techniques for single skunks include frequently entering a state of torpor, during which time their body temperature drops for several hours. In the spring, these solitary skunks emerged with only 9.3 percent body fat. Skunks that huddle together in groups entered torpor far fewer times for shorter periods of time than skunks that den alone. They also had more (25.5 percent) body fat in the spring. Although communal denning has its advantages, it does promote disease transmission. (Photo of striped skunk courtesy of Mary Holland)– Mary Holland

White perch11/22 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project staff checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy off Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey and monitoring. Our catch today was good for a late-season haul (diminishing daylight, falling water temperature).

At Pier 40, we found a gorgeous black sea bass (135 mm) sharing the trap with grass shrimp, mud dog whelks, and oyster drills. At Pier 26, we caught a classic adult white perch (220 mm), the first we have caught this year. Likewise, the perch shared the trap with invertebrates such as grass shrimp, mud dog whelks, and oyster drills. (Photo of white perch courtesy of Vivian Chavez)– Zoe Kim, Sierra Drury, Vivian Chavez

11/23 – Bedford, HRM 35: Among the 22 south-migrating raptors tallied today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, sharp-shined hawk was high count with seven. Red-shouldered hawk (six) also showed well. Turkey vultures (41) were once again slowly but steadily trickling out to our south/southeast throughout the watch. At one point, I saw a kettle of four red-shouldered hawks disappear into the cloud ceiling. Non-raptor migrants included American robin (100), cedar waxwing (151), American goldfinch (22), common grackle (380).– Richard Aracil

*** Fish of the Week ***Butterfish11/24 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 244 is the butterfish (Peprilus triacanthus), number 219 (of 237) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail – trlake7@nullaol.com.

Butterfish is classified as a temperate marine stray and is the only member of its family, the butterfishes (Stromateidae), documented for our watershed. They are a marine-brackish water species, ocean spawners, found primarily over sandy bottoms and commonly among floating vegetation where they form large schools over the continental shelf from Nova Scotia to Florida, and into the Gulf of Mexico.

In their Fishes of the Gulf of Maine (1953), Bigelow and Schroeder refer to the species, colloquially, as Dollarfish. They describe them as “rather rhombic-shaped, leaden bluish in color, pale sides and silver abdomen, thin, deep-bodied, with a short head, blunt snout, small teeth, and lacking pelvic fins” Their maximum size is 12-inches (300 mm) and one pound, although most are half that size.

Butterfish are an important forage species for high-end predators such as bluefish, striped bass, summer flounder, marine mammals, and birds of prey. They are found in the lower estuary when the river warms and salinities rise but will frequently linger in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor well into autumn. DEC’s recent Fall Trawl Shoal Survey found young-of-year butterfish (45 mm) around the Battery in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor.

Their common name may, in part, be derived from assessments like one from the Nova Scotian Institute of Science (1939) that describes butterfish as “… one of our best table fish, fat, oily, and of delicious flavor.” (Photo of butterfish courtesy of Rich Pendleton)– Tom Lake

11/24 – Bedford, HRM 35: Among the 33 south-migrating raptors today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, red-shouldered hawk was high count with 20. Turkey vulture (14) led among non-raptor migrants.– Richard Aracil, Barbara Phillips, Greg Lisa, Kevin McGrath, Lisa Nasta

Striped skunk courtesy of Kristin Winters

Volunteer for 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 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 or to Subscribe

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. To subscribe to the Almanac (or to unsubscribe), use the links on DEC’s Hudson River Almanac or DEC Delivers web pages.

Useful Links

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 & Wildlife App.