Black Bears

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

Overview

Our Hudson River Almanac will take our traditional Holiday Season pause beginning next week and going through New Year’s. However, receiving and compiling readers’ stories, adventures, and observations does not pause. The river, the forest, and the air never take a holiday. And without all of you, we have no Almanac. After the pause, we will all begin Year 31 of our Hudson River Almanac.


Highlight of the Week

12/13 – Norrie Point, HRM 85: Even though the water temperature at Norrie Point had been a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F), we have been checking a small trap we set daily for about two weeks hoping for a common mudpuppy. This morning we were rewarded. Our beautiful 11-inch salamander had rich red external gills and a flattened tail for swimming, thus the genus name Necturus, from Greek, as “swimming tail.” Their trivial name, maculosus, is from Latin as “dappled.”

Late fall and early winter are when these amphibians are most active and breeding. We admired this one, took plenty of pictures, and released it back to the estuary during a social media post.-Chris Bowser, Madeline McDonald, and Brianna Estrada

Common mudpuppy in a tank

Photo of common mudpuppy courtesy of Chris Bowser

[The common mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus), a relative to the salamander, is an aggressive amphibian. Their diet is made up of just about anything they can swallow from insects to small fish to worms. As a result, they are not uncommonly hooked by anglers. Tom Lake]


Natural History Entries

12/9 – Rensselaer County, HRM 152: I counted four redhead ducks today on Snyder’s Lake in Wynantskill, three males and one female, mixed in with some scaup.– Naomi Lloyd (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

12/9– Newburgh, HRM 61: We were at the Newburgh Waterfront today searching for a couple of Iceland gulls that Bruce Nott had found earlier in the week — we were excited to get out and get the winter “gulling season” started. We located one first-winter Iceland gull (Larus glaucoides kumlieni) among about 400 gulls of the three expected species (herring gull, great black-backed gull, and ring-billed gull) on the river.– Matt Zeitler, Bruce Nott

gull floating on waterbody

Photo of iceland gull courtesy of Matt Zeitler

[Kumlien’s gull (Larus glaucoides kumlieni) is a subspecies of the Iceland gull (L. glaucoides), a large gull that breeds in the Arctic regions of Canada. They are migratory, wintering from Labrador south to New England and west across the Great Lakes. The subspecies is named after the naturalist Ludwig Kumlien (Brewster 1883). When we talk of “white-winged gulls” in the eastern United States, we are referring to Iceland and glaucous gulls. Curt McDermott]

12/9 – Yonkers, HRM 18: Our staff at the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak following our final river education program of the year, took the opportunity to summarize our results.

Our top five catches for the year were moon jellyfish (1,289), Atlantic silverside (1,282), blue crab (1,033), mummichog (542), and grass shrimp (445). Overall, it was a typical season for us, with only a few things that stood out: We had our smallest catch ever of American eels (adult) as well as with both winter flounder and summer flounder, and very low numbers of Atlantic tomcod.

[Compare with our high counts for 2022: Atlantic silverside (2,608), blue crab (658), mummichog (545), grass shrimp (354).]

On the positive side, we had big numbers of blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), mummichogs (Fundulus heteroclitus), and the most spot (Leiostomus xanthurus) ever caught in a season.– Jason Muller

spot fish in a hand

Photo of spot courtesy of ElizaBeth Streifeneder

12/10 – Hudson River Watershed: During warmer months, a beaver’s (Castor canadensis) herbivorous diet consists of aquatic plants, herbaceous flowering plants, ferns, and mushrooms, as well as some woody plants. However, most of these food stuffs are not available or accessible once ice has formed on a lake or pond. Even if they were, they would not store well over the winter, under water, which is the only accessible location for beavers in northern climates.

For their winter food supply, beavers cut branches in the fall, drag them into the water and anchor them in the mud near their lodge, where often the top of the pile is visible above the water. Until thick ice forms, beavers continue to go ashore for food. However, once they are locked under the ice, beavers feed from the underwater cache that sustains them throughout the winter. The size of the cache increases as you travel north. A northern cache may contain a ton or more of wood. Beavers in more moderate climates, where ice does not form, do not have a need to store winter food.– Mary Holland


Fish of the Week

12/11 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 247 is the brown trout (Salmo trutta), number 99 (of 237) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail – trlake7@nullaol.com.

Brown trout is one of ten salmonids (Salmonidae), plus two varieties, documented for the Hudson River Watershed. Salmo trutta is native to Europe, from the Arctic fjords of Scandinavia eastward to the Hindu Kush at the foot of the Himalayas. They are now found on every continent on earth except for Antarctica. Brown trout were introduced into New York State in 1883 from a German Black Forest population. A second introduction came in 1885 from a population at Loch Leven, Scotland. Both varieties have since co-mingled so that they are now con-specific. The New York State angling record brown trout, 33 lb. 2 oz., was caught in Lake Ontario in June 1997.

Brown trout may be the most famous freshwater game fish in the world. They first appear in the literature when described by third century A.D. Roman naturalist Claudius Aelianus, while giving an account of fly-fishing during a mayfly hatch on the River Astraeus in Macedonia, as “the fish with speckled skin,”

Legendary seventeenth century angler Izaak Walton simply called them “The Trout.” Cecil Heacox, in his classic The Compleat Brown Trout (1974), describes them as “… a delight to the eye, exciting to the mind, stimulating to the spirit, and delectable to the palate.” Austrian composer Franz Schubert’s (1819) enduring masterpiece Die Forelle (The Trout) was inspired by the brown trout.

J.R. Greeley, in his A Biological Survey of the Lower Hudson Watershed (1937), refers to brown trout, taxonomically, as Salmo fario (German brown trout), and colloquially as Loch Leven brown trout. Greeley noted that they were common in lower river.

The original inhabitants of the Hudson River Watershed were largely Algonkian tribes. Among them were Mohican. “Trout’ in the Mohican dialect is Numaakw. Since brown trout were introduced, Numaakw must refer to two native (Precolonial) Salmonids, brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and lake trout (S. namaycush).

Brown trout share New York’s waters with other Salmonids. However, brown trout tend to have a broader range of comfortable habitats (such as water temperature and dissolved oxygen). As a result, they often are a more appropriate candidate for warmer-water, less aerated, stocking of ponds and steams. From twelve hatcheries, DEC annually stocks about 380 water bodies with brown trout including 150 lakes and ponds and 230 streams (Ryan Coulter).

There are also two varieties (sterile hybrids), brown trout x lake trout (splake) and brown trout x brook trout (tiger trout). Both crosses are unusual in that the parents are members of different genera. DEC no longer stocks tiger trout. However, a decade ago, DEC collected a dozen or more tiger trout in a tributary to Sawkill Creek (Dutchess County). Both wild brown trout and wild brook trout were also found there, and DEC theorized that they were naturally hybridizing. Bob Schmidt caught a 16-inch tiger trout in the Sawkill in April 2017 (Michael Flaherty).

someone holding a brown trout out of water

 Photo of brown trout courtesy of Ralph Scherder

12/12 – Ulster County, HRM 75: I took a short walk in the John Burroughs Nature Preserve today. With no ice yet and a completely calm day the cliffs across the lake made perfect reflections in the still water of the lake.

Under a large rock across the inlet, I saw a beaver lodge jutting out just where one was 20 years ago. The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) is a native species that was an essential fur source for the indigenous tribes in prehistory, and in the Contact Period times prized for trade.

Although I didn’t see a beaver this time, evidence of its industrious activities was very evident. A 30-foot-high, 12-inch diameter red maple had been girdled by the powerful chew marks of this remarkable rodent, one foot above the ground, until the tree toppled into the lake. I marveled at the power of those jaws and chisel-shaped incisors that require daily use.

This mostly nocturnal work must have happened in the last two weeks, evident by the fresh pile of two-inch wood chips piled around the tree stump. All the main tree limbs had been lopped off even under the water and dragged off to the lake floor to be used as winter forage when the ice seals off the available food source. Lucky for this beaver it lives in a nature preserve where its landscape altering activities are protected and appreciated.– Mario Meier

tree cut down by beaver activity

 Photo of beaver activity courtesy of Mario Meier

12/13 – Greene County: The Geminids Meteor Shower arrived for us tonight. I had kept my fingers crossed for weeks hoping for a clear night, which turned out to be tonight.

With dark skies and a new moon, 120 meteors per-hour had been predicted with a peak between 9:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. I woke up at 3:00 a.m., wrapped up warm, and went out into the snowy Catskill’s landscape. It was a crisp 20 degrees, but the skies were totally clear. The moment I tilted back in my lawn chair a beauty streaked across the sky. My wife joined me, and we counted as many as 30 in the first ten minutes. The meteors displayed a variety of colors from blue to orange and yellow; color is often associated with the Geminids Meteor Shower due to mineral content.

The twin stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini were very high and behind my view to the northwest so I was only looking at about a quarter of the sky, catching the southward bound meteors. I counted 134 meteors in an hour — two hours past predicted peak — before getting chilled and going in at 4:00 a.m.

Three of my grandchildren were up at 5:00 a.m. and saw the “shooting stars” continue even as dawn began to lighten up the sky. My two-year-old granddaughter watched the Geminids Meteor Shower show with her parents from eastern Pennsylvania. Comparing our notes, it was a stellar sky event well worth the effort of an early rise.– Mario Meier

geminid meteor shower

Photo of Geminid meteor shower in Greene County courtesy of Martha Stewart

[The Geminid meteor shower is unique among celestial events as it originates not from a comet but from the remnants of asteroid 3200 Phaethon and its debris trail that we pass through annually. The trail’s particles, traveling at 78,000 miles-per-hour, burn up as they hit earth’s atmosphere.

[Asteroid 3200 Phaethon, discovered by astronomer Fred Whipple on Oct. 11, 1983, was spotted by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, and named after the Greek mythological figure who drove the Sun-god Helios’ chariot. Phaethon’s 1.4-year-long orbit around the Sun and its comet-like elliptical trajectory have led scientists to speculate if it is a “dead comet” or a distinct celestial entity known as a “rock comet.” NASA]

The radiant of this shower appears to streak out from the constellation Gemini (thus Geminid) made up of the twin stars Castor and Pollux. It is something special when the dawn glow shows red in the east and a “blazer” meteor steaks down over the Catskill Mountains skyline.– Mario Meier

12/13 – Town of Warwick, HRM 41: When we arrived at Liberty Marsh, despite being the middle of December, the waterfowl showed no sense of urgency. Challenging winter weather was still confined to points north. A stiff west wind had pushed several skeins of high-flyers overhead, all Canada geese, in various geometric formations. A hundred or more Canadas had already set down in the marsh. The best show was put on by a large congregation of black ducks, bursting from the pond, flying will-nilly all over, looking less like a flock and more like small outliers. Other ducks included two northern shovelers, two northern pintails, and a wood duck. The 335-acre Liberty Marsh is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Complex adjacent to and near the headwaters of the Wallkill River.– Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[The “Black Dirt” region of southwest Orange County, between Florida and Pine Island, has 26,000 acres of the most fertile soil in the country. This miracle dirt, black as night, is essentially an immensely organic compost having originated from the decaying flora and fauna of a late-Pleistocene post-glacial lake and swampland (12,000 years ago).

Back Dirt is an important agricultural area growing farm produce such as onions, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, cabbage, carrots, corn, pumpkin, and squash in the rich black soil. The region’s fields and wetlands contain bones of long extinct species such as mammoths, mastodons, elk-moose, peccary, Jefferson’s ground sloth, horse, giant beaver, and other magnificent animals that lived and died there.

Having conducted prehistoric archaeology in the Black Dirt, when I drive through the area, I cannot help but sense an air of antiquity, feel the chill of an ice age, and hear the trumpet calls of long ago elephants.Tom Lake]

mammoth statue at museum

Photo of Woolly Mammoth courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History

12/14 – 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.Today at Pier 40, we caught two feather blennies (75-90 millimeters) and one juvenile black sea bass (53 mm). Invertebrates included grass shrimp and isopods. At Pier 26, while no fish were caught, the invertebrates included white-fingered mud crabs and grass shrimp.– Stefan Valdez, Vivian Chavez

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

12/15 – Hudson River Watershed: Most common loons that breed in the Northeast spend the winter off the New England coast. The adults migrate independent of their chicks and of each other. Adults depart first, usually starting to leave in October. As mentioned, pairs leave separately, one before the other. In one study, 62% of the time the female departed first. Most juveniles remain on natal or adjacent lakes after adults have departed, often until near freeze-up, when they migrate by themselves with no direction from parents. Their migration can take up to two months, whereas adults manage it in one or two days.

It should be noted that not all common loons leave the Northeast in the winter. Loons of all ages, but primarily juveniles, are present year-round as far north as Vermont, if weather permits and open water can be found. With climate change, it may become more common to see loons on open inland lakes in the Northeast in winter. This week we were able to photograph a juvenile common loon on Lake Champlain as it caught and ate a yellow perch)– Mary Holland

Common loon with a fish in its beak

Photo of common loon courtesy of Mary Holland 


Autumn-Winter 2023-2024 Natural History Programs and Entries

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.