Black Bears

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

Overview

The watershed is truly in transition. With winter approaching, at one end of the watershed the week featured migrating waterfowl spurred on by severe weather to the north, but at the other end of the watershed, tropical fishes—real risk-takers—were still being caught.

Highlight of the Week

12/6 – Manhattan, 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 of the day” occurred at Pier 40 when we found a gorgeous 75 millimeter (mm) feather blenny, a seasonally-resident marine species, in a minnow pot with grass shrimp, isopods, and mud crabs.

Our good fortune continued at Pier 26 with an adult white perch (typically uncommon) and a tiny skilletfish (40 mm).– Stefan Valdez, Vivian Chavez

Feather Blenny out of water

Photo of feather blenny courtesy of Stefan Valdez

[Feather blenny (Hypsoblennius hentz) is a small, scaleless, mottled brownish-black fish with fleshy cirri (“feathers”) on their head. They can get to 100 mm long. Their lower jaw has a row of small, close-set teeth like those of a comb, thus their family name, combtooth blennies (Blenniidae). They are benthic dwellers where they often burrow in the soft bottom and find refuge in old mollusk shells, especially oysters. When they lie still on the bottom, with a little current, they look like another bit of vegetation. Being a saltwater species, they are limited to the lower estuary where they can find, minimally, 12.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt) salinity (full seawater at this latitude is 32-35 ppt). The feather blenny was added to our watershed fish list in August 1994 from a feather blenny caught in the Hudson River at The River Project (Pier 41) in Manhattan. Tom Lake]


Natural History Entries

12/2 – Fort Miller, HRM 192: A juvenile northern gannet (Morus bassanus) “dropped from the sky” in Albany a few days ago. We were so excited to see this seabird so far from the coast. We checked it out and found no obvious trauma, breaks or wounds, just a couple of minor abrasions. However, it was acting aggressively, was quite vocal, and it was not eating. We had a decision to make.

I am a State and Federally Licensed/Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator and I have a network of colleagues and advisors. We consulted a colleague on Long Island who gets northern gannets in need of rehabilitation on occasion. After discussing the pros and cons of our next step, we decided that releasing the bird on the Hudson River was better than driving it anywhere far away, such as closer to the sea, to release it. Gannets, like other seabirds, are susceptible to Aspergillosis, a fungal infection, something that the stress of a long transport could bring on and exacerbate.

We released the gannet on the Hudson River this morning by Lock 6 in Fort Miller, from where it swam around for a bit and then flew away [like loons, gannets require a watery runway].– Trish Marki

Northern Gannet

Photo of northern gannet courtesy of Trish Marki

[There’s only one prior eBird record for northern gannet for all of Region 8 (New York State), and that occurred in 1980. Region 8 is defined by the New York State Ornithological Association and includes all of the counties along the Hudson River from Greene and Columbia to Warren and Washington, plus Schenectady, Schoharie, Fulton, and Montgomery. Zach Schwartz-Weinstein (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club]

[The northern gannet is a large, elegant seabird of the Atlantic and a common pelagic (offshore) species. They have a long, pointed bill, wings, and tail. Adults are bright white with cream-colored head and black wingtips. It takes several years for a gannet to reach adult plumage; juveniles are all sooty-brown and slowly becoming whiter as they mature.

Northern gannets nest in enormous colonies on cliffs in the North Atlantic, and spend most of their life at sea, although often close to land. As they migrate from their breeding grounds, then can be seen diving torpedo-like into the ocean [not unlike pelicans] if there is a run of forage fish inshore.

A very few stray down the Saint Lawrence River and wander around Lake Ontario or even fewer, Lake Champlain, until ice or fate takes its toll. Sulids (gannets and boobies) as a family group, are great wanderers as demonstrated by the gannet’s relative, the brown booby, a tropical seabird relative to the gannet. We have had far more sightings of the brown booby in the Hudson Valley than that of northern gannet. Stan DeOrsey, Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club]

12/3 – Fort Miller, HRM 192: More pondering on our surprise northern gannet from yesterday. There had been some stormy weather over Boston just before the gannet’s arrival here. My best guess is that being immature, it got blown off course. Then it saw a wet road and mistakenly thought it was water and landed. Once on the ground, not close to water, it was in a bit of a predicament. It happens a lot with loons. We are hoping others will report seeing the gannet on its journey and then we can track its progress.– Trish Marki

12/4 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak was back on the beach for a morning sample of the near shore shallows with six mid-tide hauls of our net to discover what was home. As had been expected, Atlantic silverside was high count with ten (80-100 mm). Other fish included young-of-year striped bass (70 mm) and mummichog (55 mm). Mixed in the bag were also two grass shrimp. The river was 46 degrees Fahrenheit (F), salinity was down to 3.3 parts-per-thousand (ppt), and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was a healthy 10.6 parts-per-million (ppm).– Jason Muller, Sophia Tache

12/5 – Hudson River Watershed: Woodchucks (Marmota monax), also called groundhogs or whistle-pigs, are rodents and as such possess four incisors, two at the front of both their upper and lower mandibles. What makes a woodchuck atypical is the color of these four teeth. Unlike most rodents they lack a layer of orange enamel on the outer surface of their incisors, and therefore these teeth are white.

Rodents depend on their incisors for their very existence and keeping them in good shape is imperative. The incisors grow continuously for the life of the woodchuck at the rate of 1/16 of an inch each week. To keep the growth of the front teeth in check the groundhogs must constantly chew or gnaw on leaves, grass, or nibble at trees and roots to help keep their teeth worn down.– Mary Holland

Woodchuck chewing on leaves

Photo of woodchuck courtesy of Tom Nicholls

12/6 – Poughkeepsie, HRM 75: I heard, and then counted, five tundra swans shortly after 8:00 a.m. flying south down the river.– Chris Chappell, Ralph T. Waterman Bid Club

Tundra Swan in flight

Photo of tundra swan courtesy of Tom Nicholls

[Tundra swans are often called “America’s native swan.” Their common name refers to their summer nesting range north of Hudson Bay in the Arctic tundra. They can usually be heard calling long before they are seen, which leads to another frequently used colloquial name, “whistling swan.” David Sibley remarks that distant flocks sound like “baying hounds.” Tundra swans are occasional visitors to the Hudson Valley during spring and fall migrations. Tom Lake]

12/6 – Beacon, HRM 61: The tide was just beginning to rise at first light through snow flurries. Despite heavy overcast, the sound of goose calls from flyovers marked this as a “flight day.” The abrupt change in weather had sent a message to the north and waterfowl had heard it. More than one hundred Canada geese had set down for the night in the cove at Long Dock Park. Their calls seemed like an echo of those coming down from the clouds.

On the beach, as we set our seine, the snow changed from flurries to a shower. When we hauled the net, it morphed further into a bitter cold snow squall.

It was that time of the season of colder water (43 degrees F) and fewer fish (we had no expectations). As we neared the Winter Solstice, it was time to stow our gear until March. Maybe. On our third and last haul, despite no movement in the net’s bag, we found two young-of-year spottail shiners huddled in the folds. Two fish never looked so good.– Tom Lake, A. Danforth

small spottail shiner in water

Photo of spottail shiner courtesy of Tom Lake

[And every year if gets more difficult to put the gear away. I always think of the lyrics from a Gordon Bok ballad, Mrs. MacDonald’s Lament:

When the wind’s away, and the wave’s away,That crazy old fool will go down on the bay,Dodgin’ the ledges and settin’ his gear,And come back when the wind drives him in.Yet he knows full well the fishin’ is done …His credit’s all gone and winter has come,But as sure as the tide will rise and run,He’ll go back on the bay again.

[Spottail shiner (Notropis hudsonius) is a native Hudson River fish, one of 32 species of carps and minnows (Cyprinidae), the largest family of fishes in the watershed. Spottail shiner was described to science by DeWitt Clinton in 1824, as a tribute to the Hudson River, between his two terms as the sixth and eighth governor of New York State. The species has since undergone nine taxonomic variations offered by some of the luminaries of ichthyology including Edward Drinker Cope, David Starr Jordan, and Tarleton Hoffman Bean. However, Clinton’s 1824 name prevails. Tom Lake]

12/6 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak was back on the beach for a morning sample of the near shore shallows with five low-tide hauls of our net. There were no silversides today, and thus no real high counts. The only fish was a white perch (140 mm). Sharing the seine was a single sand shrimp and one very late season blue crab (20 mm). The river was 45 degrees F, salinity continued low at 3.1 ppt, and the dissolved oxygen (DO) was again a healthy 10.6 ppm).– Jason Muller, Maria Cecconello

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

12/7 – Hudson River Watershed: Many species of holly can be found in eastern North America—some are evergreen, some deciduous, some with red fruits, some with black fruits, some are shrubs, and some are trees. There are only three native holly shrubs in the Northeast: Common Winterberry (deciduous, red berries), mountain holly (deciduous, red berries, short spurs on branches) and inkberry (evergreen, black berries).

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) goes by several common names including winter holly, winterberry, black alder, northern holly, and swamp holly. Look for it in wet soil near swamps, ponds, or wet woods. Its bright scarlet berries (botanically speaking, drupes) persist into winter, adding bursts of color to the relatively drab landscape. While we enjoy looking at the berries, many birds that remain here during the colder months eat them, including crows, mockingbirds, robins, and waxwings.– Mary Holland

Common Winterberry - bright red berries on branches and snow on the ground

 Photo of common winterberry courtesy of Mary Holland


Fish of the Week

12/7 – Hudson River Watershed: Fishes-of-the-Week for Week 246 are the butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae), two of which are found in the Hudson River watershed.

They are the foureye butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus), number 195 (of 237), and the spotfin butterflyfish (C. ocellatus), number 196, on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com.

The butterflyfishes are perhaps the most tropical-looking fish, albeit rarely encountered, in the estuary. Both are tropical marine strays. Foureye butterflyfish are found from New England to the Gulf of Mexico and are the most common butterflyfish in the Caribbean. Spotfin butterflyfish are found from New England to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico.

The foureye butterflyfish is quite small (to 75 mm). Its name is derived from a dark “eye spot” just forward of its caudal fin. This spot is surrounded by a brilliant white ring, suggesting another eye. This spot, combined with a vertical black bar through its eye, are adaptations designed to confuse predators. This species was added to our watershed fish list in 1989, from a foureye butterflyfish captured at The River Project’s Pier 26 in Manhattan.

The spotfin butterflyfish is the larger of the two species (to 200 mm). Its name originates from a small dark angular black spot on the trailing tip of its soft dorsal fin. Males have a second, rather large, dark spot at base of their soft dorsal fin. These spots, coupled with a dark black vertical bar on their head that runs through their eye, comprise adaptations designed to confuse predators. This species was added to our watershed fish list in 1988, from a spotfin butterflyfish captured at The River Project’s Pier 26 in Manhattan. Recently (December 1, 2023), a spotfin butterflyfish (45 mm) was collected at Pier 40 in Hudson River Park.

Most if not all butterflyfish found in the estuary are young-of-year, caught up in the northward running Gulf Stream until dispersing shoreward into rivers, bays, and estuaries of the New York Bight. Among the many good references on butterflyfishes, two favorites are Fishes of the Bahamas (Böohkle and Chapman, 1968), and Field Guide to Tropical Fishes (C. Lavett Smith, 1997).– Tom Lake

Spotfin Butterfly fish - bright yellow around the edges, silvery body, and black vertical strip along the head

 Photo of spotfin butterflyfish courtesy of John Maraventano

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


12/8 – Hudson River Watershed: Black bears (Ursus americanus) often enter hibernation in November, but their exact timing depends in large part on the weather as well as the availability of food such as hard mast (acorns, beechnuts, etc.). Cold temperatures and scarce food hasten their entry, and warm weather and ample food delays it.

If bears are active (and they still are in the Northeast due in part to relatively warm weather), one would be wise to delay feeding birds. Even though a black bear’s metabolic rate during hibernation can drop to a quarter of its non-hibernating basal metabolic rate, it still needs to put on a considerable amount of fat (some bears double their weight) to sustain itself while it fasts through the winter.

A pre-hibernation feeding frenzy by black bears is why putting up bird feeders prematurely (before black bears hibernate) is discouraged by most northern Fish & Wildlife Departments. If a bear comes upon a filled bird feeder it is very likely to return to it repeatedly until it either goes into hibernation, or tears the feeder down. A black bear’s memory is very impressive, and most are unable to resist a free lunch. If you can’t put off feeding the birds for another few weeks, it’s a good idea to bring feeders inside at night if you live in bear country.– Mary Holland, Naturally Curious

Four Black Bears sitting near a tree and looking towards the camera

 Photo of black bears courtesy of Mary Holland


Autumn 2023 Natural History Programs and Events

Women in Science Speaker Series

Please join us for the DEC’s free virtual winter “Women in Science” (PDF) 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 (PDF) 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 trlake7@nullaol.com. To subscribe to the Almanac (or to unsubscribe), use the links on DEC’s Hudson River Almanac or DEC Delivers webpages.

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 & Wildlife App.