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


Most of the watershed is still braced for the first serious onset of winter weather. The river has chilled to below wading temperature and seining has become a case of diminishing returns. Winter waterfowl, ducks, geese, and their allies that breed to the north, are moving into the watershed, a move that will increase as upland waters begin to freeze next month.

We had interestingly juxtaposed sightings this week: A tropical stray butterflyfish in New York Harbor, and 200 miles upriver, a rare, Arctic-breeding sandpiper that should have been foraging along the rocky shoreline in Maine.

Highlight of the Week

Purple sandpiper11/28 – Saugerties, HRM 102: I came upon a purple sandpiper foraging alongside the boardwalk near the Saugerties Lighthouse. As I walked by, it did not fly away but ran under the boardwalk to hide. It was surprising that I was able to get so close to take a couple decent photos complete with diagnostic traits. My thanks to Bob Miller for helping me with the identification. (Top right photo: purple sandpiper courtesy of Patrick Landewe; bottom right photo: purple sandpiper courtesy of Martina Noordstrand)– Patrick Landewe, Bob Miller

Purple sandpiper[This was only the second sighting of this species for Ulster County, but the first that has been verified with a photograph. The one previous purple sandpiper sighting occurred on March 22, 1997, at Port Ewen. That sighting was documented on eBird but lacked a photo.– Peter Schoenberger]-

[Purple sandpipers are plump, rock-loving shorebird with slightly droopy bill. They are most often seen in non-breeding plumage, which is dark gray with spotted underparts. Their namesake purple sheen (mostly on back, scapulars, and tertials) is only visible at close distance in good light. Legs and base of bill usually bright orange. Messy-looking breeding plumage is darker and more heavily marked, with limited rusty tones on upperparts. They have a largely inaccessible breeding range on high Arctic tundra; most often seen in northern Europe, Spitsbergen, and Iceland. Purple sandpipers winter at slightly lower latitudes, regularly south to the mid-Atlantic region in North America and the Iberian Peninsula in Europe. They are frequently found in flocks on rocky coastlines and jetties pounded by heavy surf. e-Bird]

Natural History Entries

Sun dog11/25 – Greene County: It was late afternoon in the late fall and with long mares’ tail clouds brushing the brilliant blue sky, an amazing singular “Sun Dog” appeared over the Catskill Mountains. The Sun Dog is a member of a family of halos caused by refracted sunlight in the atmosphere, a curious sky phenomenon called “parhelion” from the Greek meaning “beside the sun.”

Vertical hexagonal ice crystals high in cirrus clouds refract the sunlight causing this atmospheric optical phenomenon, or “phantom sun,” about 22 degrees to one side of the setting Sun. This Sun Dog was even more unique as its red-to-orange parabola seemed to focus a brilliant long shaft of sunlight beyond the Sun Dog across the deep blue sky. With long shafts of near-winter sun slanting across the landscape, this spectacle was uniquely different from any I had seen before. (Photo of sun dog courtesy of Arlo Meier)– Mario Meier

Bufflehead11/25 – Rosendale, HRM 84: I came upon a small flock of mixed sex bufflehead ducks diving and feeding in Rondout Creek while a bald eagle circled overhead. The eagle made several stooping swoops that the buffleheads avoided by diving. (Photo of bufflehead courtesy of Larry Arvidson)– Larry Arvidson

11/25 – Bedford, HRM 35: Among the 65 south-migrating raptors tallied today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, red-shouldered hawk was high count with 42. Collectively, turkey vulture (31) and black vulture (8) were high count among non-raptor migrants.– Richard Aracil, Harry Wales, Karen Troche, Pedro Troche

Buffleheads11/26 – Rosendale, HRM 84: Today was part two of yesterday’s bufflehead experience on Rondout Creek. Today, however, was much more serene as I came upon the buffleheads and found just a mated pair drifting along. (Photo of buffleheads courtesy of Larry Arvidson)– Larry Arvidson

Loggerhead shrike11/26 – Galeville, HRM 74: I had a fabulous outing this morning at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. I had a good reason to go since my target bird, the loggerhead shrike, had been seen there this fall. I caught up with one a year ago and I was hoping to get lucky again. Another reason was the time of the year when raptors are flying over the refuge.

It was a beautifully cold morning (20 degrees Fahrenheit) and I arrived just after sunrise with barely a whisper of a breeze. As the sun started to get a little higher, I paused to check my camera settings and was surprised to find a young northern harrier just off the trail peering out of the vegetation. I was surprised that it had not flushed.

On my way back, I heard a northern harrier calling repeatedly and eventually found what I presumed to be the same young harrier harassing a perched red-tailed hawk in the distance. As I worked my way along the trail, the harrier flew directly at me, providing an excellent photo opportunity. (Photo of loggerhead shrike courtesy of Matt Zeitler)– Matt Zeitler

11/27 – Bedford, HRM 35: Among the four south-migrating raptors tallied today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, bald eagle was high count with two. The other two were red-tailed hawk and an unidentified migrating raptor. We saw adult bald eagles, either singly or in pairs at least six times in various directions but we could not see that any were continuing south. Collectively, turkey vulture and black vulture, three each, were high count among non-raptor migrants.– Avril Armstrong, Tom White

11/27 – Hudson River Watershed: Among indigenous peoples, full moons have long been labeled with fanciful names that are rooted in oral traditions, indigenous memories, and ethnographic accounts. Among Mohican people, whose ancestral homeland lies wholly within the Hudson River watershed, the November full moon is known as the First Snow Moon, Sãapeewe Osãane Neepãʔuk in the Mohican dialect.

Tribal translations of full moons pre-date colonization and generally reflect the seasonality of the lunar phase. Moon phases, in fact, were used by indigenous people as measurements of time.– Larry Madden, Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians

Oriental bittersweet11/28 – Hudson River Watershed: Is it Oriental or American bittersweet? Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is an invasive, perennial, woody vine introduced to the United States in the 1860s from east Asia. It is extremely aggressive and chokes out desirable native plants by smothering them with its dense foliage and strangling stems and trunks. Even so, it is still sold as an ornamental plant.

Occasionally, you will come across American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), a similar but far less common native species of bittersweet. One can tell the two species apart several ways: American Bittersweet leaves are more football shaped than rounded. Their flowers and fruit also emerge only from the ends of the stems, rather than at each leaf axil, as with Oriental bittersweet. The fruit of American bittersweet also has a bright red covering instead of yellow. (Photo of Oriental bittersweet courtesy of Mary Holland)– Mary Holland (Naturally Curious)

Spotfin butterflyfish11/29 – 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. We had a modest catch at Pier 26, led by an adult white perch (195 mm), just our second one of the year, in with a mix of mud crabs, mud dog whelks, and grass shrimp. The catch of the day, however, was a spotfin butterflyfish (45 mm), a tropical species we rarely see. (Photo of spotfin butterflyfish courtesy of Vivian Chavez)– Vivian Chavez, Stefan Valdez

[The spotfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus) is one of several tropical fishes, including jacks and snappers, almost always juveniles, that make their way into the warm and salty lower reach of the estuary each summer. Their seawater comfort zone is generally in the mid-70’s Fahrenheit, and many of them feel the coming chill of autumn and depart for points south. But some miscalculate and linger too long, like this spotfin butterflyfish. Tom Lake]

Red hake11/30 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 245 is the red hake (Urophycis chuss), number 109 (of 237) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail –

The red hake, also known as the squirrel hake, is one of three members of its family (Phycidae) and its genus (Urophycis) documented for our watershed. The others are spotted hake (U. regia) and white hake (U. tenuis). Their taxonomy can get a bit hazy: They are closely related to, even formerly included with, the cods (Gadidae), but presently regarded as belonging to the cod subfamily Phycinae (Phycid hakes).

Red hake ranges in the Western North Atlantic from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and southern Nova Scotia, to Cape Hatteras. They are found on soft, muddy, and sandy bottoms, but never on rocks, gravel, or shells. Their color varies from reddish to olive-brown dorsally, sometimes getting very dark or mottled. They can get to 25-inches long and weigh eight pounds. Their body is elongated with a small (but obvious) barbel on its lower jaw. Its long continuous dorsal fin equals 57% of its total length. Their long, continuous anal equals 43% of its total length (Froese, Rainer, Pauly, Daniel 2006).

Juveniles reside along coastal shallows, often living in the mantle cavity of scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) and remain close to scallop beds until they mature. Red hake feed on shrimp, amphipods, and other crustaceans, as well as on squid, herring, flatfish, and mackerel.

Red hake offer late autumn sportfishing (along with Atlantic tomcod) in the brackish lower estuary from Yonkers/Alpine down into New York Harbor and the East River. Juvenile red hake are occasionally caught in beach seines throughout that range as well. (Photo of red hake courtesy of Joel Sartore)– Tom Lake

Bohemian waxwing12/1 – Fulton County, HRM 200: There was a reliable report this morning of a Bohemian waxwing along Great Sacandaga Lake. (Photo of Bohemian waxwing with permission by Illinois DNR)– Rich Guthrie

Other recent sighting of the rather uncommonly seen Bohemian waxwing in the Almanac: – Nov 29, 2018 – Kingston (a few)– Apr 7, 2015 – Queensbury (large flock)– Mar 22, 2015 – Burnt Hills (with cedar waxwings)

[Bohemian waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) is a casual winter visitor. Traditionally a Western species, they were formerly found in the East during infrequent winter irruptions. Since 1970, they have become more regular and have been seen every year in northern New York and northern New England.

Bohemian waxwing is a plump, smooth-plumaged bird with a sleek crest and white-and-yellow markings on its wings with a rich rufous undertail. They are mostly clean gray with brighter rusty wash on their face. They breed in open coniferous forests at high latitudes across the Northern Hemisphere. Their winter range depends on fruit crops and are often found in flocks feasting on fruiting trees like crabapple and mountain ash. Compared with the cedar waxwing, the Bohemian is larger and grayer, with a different wing pattern and no yellow on its abdomen. eBird]

Muskrat12/1 – Hudson River Watershed: Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), known colloquially as “mush-rats”, remain active throughout the year, often seeking shelter in the winter in bank burrows, if steep banks and slow-moving water are available. Lodges are typically built in the early fall with families building several within their home range.

A muskrat lodge resembles a beaver lodge, only smaller and constructed out of mud and cattails, reeds and phragmites instead of logs and sticks. It houses a pair of muskrats and often several litters. The main chamber is hollowed out, and often there are several additional rooms created for litters. Muskrats enter and exit the water through one or more plunge holes inside the lodge.

According to naturalist Mark Elbroch, you can tell if a muskrat lodge is active in the winter by looking for long lines of bubbles that collect under the ice as the muskrats travel to and from their lodge. These bubbles of air are sometimes scavenged by the muskrats to extend the time they can remain under water. (Photo of muskrat courtesy of Mary Holland)– Mary Holland

Mute swans12/1 – Ulster County, HRM 92: I’ve recently witnessed (verified) a continued long-term presence of mute swans in a pond behind the Eddyville Dam in Rondout Creek. Today, at least one parent and two off-spring were paddling about. (Photo of mute swans courtesy of Larry Arvidson)– Larry Arvidson

[The mute swan (Cygnus olor) is a member of the waterfowl family Anatidae. They are a huge white birds with a long neck, a reddish-orange bill, and a black face. Adults have a black knob on top of their bill. Immatures [cygnets] are dusky brown with a gray bill.

The mute swan is native to northern Europe and Asia but has been introduced in many regions where it is now common on ponds, lakes, and calm coastal waters. Mute swans can cause a variety of problems, including aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality, and potential hazards to aviation. Please visit DEC’s Mute Swan webpage for more information.

Northern harrier courtesy of Larry Arvidson

Women in Science Speaker Series

Please join us for the DEC’s free virtual winter “Women in Science” speaker series.The series provides listeners the opportunity to meet and learn from scientists, community leaders, and environmental educators who work at the intersection of research, education, and environmental and social justice. See this flier for our speaker line up and information on how to register.

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 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.