Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

We moved into a very un-winter season with almost no ice on the estuary and snowmelt flooding in the High Peaks. Late season warblers, many of which might be expected to be wintering in South America, were, nevertheless, lingering in the Hudson Valley.


Highlight of the Week

1/6 – Orange County, HRM 43: I walked and birded the Winding Waters Trail at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge today, not far from Pine Island. Among many sightings was an eastern bluebird that out-blued the sky.– Matt Zeitler

Eastern Bluebird perched on a tree branch

Photo Courtesy of Matt Zietler


Natural History Entries

A Last Look at 2023

12/20 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Despite being on the cusp of the winter solstice, it was a particularly balmy day. Our seasonal Science and Education staff made their last check of their term. While no fish made an appearance in our research gear (pots and traps) at Piers 26 and 40, the regular retinue of grass shrimp and mud crabs were in attendance.

Of note, the average salinity readings between Pier 26 and Pier 40 trap sites were particularly low at 2.1 parts-per-thousand, which we believe was the result of significant precipitation the watershed received in the days prior.– Stefan Valdez, Vivian Chavez, Sasha Sackichand, Hart Mankin

12/28 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Hudson River Park’s River Project’s regular staff made their final check for 2023 of our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy at Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey. Our last two fish of the season, a white perch (180 mm) at Pier 26 and a skilletfish (60 mm) at Pier 40, were collected in the traps.

The 2023 season marked the first full year of two simultaneous survey sites (Piers 26 and 40). We are excited to continue to explore local biodiversity in Hudson River Park in 2024 and better understand the influence of micro-habitats on the biological community of the estuary.– Tina Walsh, Sierra Drury, Rachel Swanson

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

skilletfish

Photo Courtesy of Toland Kister

1/3 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: The 2024 season marks the beginning of the 36th year of the Hudson River Park’s River Project’s ongoing fish ecology survey. Today’s check of our gear did not produce any fish, but we did encounter shrimp, comb jellies, and marine isopods. A large flock of gulls were present at both trap sites and left behind evidence of their foraging in the form of fish bones and crab claws.– Toland Kister, Avalon Daly

1/6 – Orange County, HRM 43: As I was leaving the Winding Waters Trail at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge today, after considerable birding, I saw a northern shrike perched high in a tree in the distance. I made my way closer to the bird and joined Linda Scrima. We enjoyed decent, if brief, looks at the bird and took some photos. I think northern shrike is a favorite of many birders, and you can certainly count me among them.– Matt Zeitler

Northern Shrike

Photo Courtesy of Matt Zietler

[The northern shrike (Lanius excubitor) is a boreal songbird whose presence in the Hudson Valley is often associated with severe winter weather to the north. They are often in migration from near-Arctic breeding grounds to Mid-Atlantic wintering sites. They have a raptor-like appearance and will often impale their prey (smaller songbirds) on thorns or barbed wire. This has earned them the scientific name for their genus, Lanius, Latin for butcher. Tom Lake]

1/6 – Newcomb, HRM 300: If I was to describe our winter in the North Country so far, in a word—wet. It has been quite dismal up here; the outdoor enthusiasts were walking around in a full pout. It feels like we are in limbo waiting for the weather to turn one way or the other.

We have had one flood event (9.86-inches) on 12/19 where we ended up tying off our boats. That is usually reserved for spring conditions but with these uncharacteristic weather patterns, all bets are off. I will admit this warm spell has made chores easier with no chipping of ice from buckets.– Ruth Olbert

USGS Stream Gauge

Photo Courtesy of USGS

[Ruth Olbert has been a Hudson River Almanac contributor since we began on the Vernal Equinox of 1994. On March 21, 1994, Ruth Olbert was my first stop on the way to the Adirondack High Peaks and the origin of the Hudson River. Later, I stopped at the Adirondack Park Visitors Information Center in Newcomb where I met Mike Corey who became Almanac contributor number two. Ruth’s Cloudsplittter Outfitters shop is directly on the river where Route 28N crosses a Hudson River that is barely 100-feet-wide. Tom Lake]

[Ruth’s flooding event (9.86-inches) refers to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Stream-gaging Network river gauge (01312000) at her location on the Hudson River. The stream gages document “river stage height,” essentially the height of the water above a reference point. On this occasion, the stream gauge reported extremely high water from meltwater runoff. Tom Niekrewicz (DEC)]

1/6 – Town of Saugerties, HRM 102: We held our 2024 (19th annual), Winter Bird Count at the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve. One field party surveyed the 160-acre nature preserve from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., recording a total of 703 birds representing 45 species that included 2.5 hours of nocturnal “owling.” This was one species and eight individuals better than last year, tying our all-time species high counts from 2022 and 2020, and ranking second-highest in total abundance. Our recent ten-year average for this survey is 39 species, 574 individuals, and our 18-year historical average is 37.5 species and 563 individuals.

Waterfowl included 58 Canada geese, 36 mallards, seven hooded mergansers, and six common mergansers. One great blue heron and one belted kingfisher also persisted on the creek. Raptors consisted of two red-shouldered hawks and three red-tailed hawks.

Six species of woodpeckers were tallied for the count, including seven yellow-bellied sapsuckers, six pileated woodpeckers, and two northern flickers. Other notables included seven brown creepers, ten winter wrens, 26 Carolina wrens, nine golden-crowned kinglets, one ruby-crowned kinglet, a remarkable 16 hermit thrushes, and 24 red-winged blackbirds. A large flock of 25 wild turkeys, roosting at first light high up in deciduous trees, was especially gratifying given their recent scarcity on local Christmas Bird Counts.

A pair of barred owls continued in a known breeding location. There were no new additions to the historical composite (71 species). Thanks to Alan Beebe, Mark DeDea, and Juliet Wolff for assisting with this year’s count.– Steve M. Chorvas

Hermit Thrush perched on a snowy branch

Photo Courtesy of Tom Murray

1/7 – Town of Wappinger, HRM 67: A foot of snow had us wondering if this was the start of real winter. The bully birds saw it that way. The heavy snow ushered in the “Starling Brothers” (Sturnus vulgaris), that almost instantly emptied the seed feeders and ravaged our suet holders. While the collective noun for a gathering of starlings is a murmuration, this was clearly a riot.– Tom Lake

Many European Starlings at a feeder

Photo Courtesy of Bob Mercer

1/7 – Newburgh, HRM 61: As the snowstorm wound down today, I headed out to the Newburgh Waterfront to see what I could find. I was mostly thinking about gulls, but I also knew I had to check the Waterfront Trail for warblers. I was thrilled to find a yellow-throated warbler, likely the same one Bruce Nott found a week ago. I also had a palm warbler and finally caught up with the Tennessee warbler that’s been reported at the same location. It was quite an unexpectedly good afternoon of birding.– Matt Zeitler

Tennessee Warbler

Photo Courtesy of Brad Imhoff

1/8 – Hudson River Watershed: One must wonder why the English naturalist Mark Catesby gave the red-bellied woodpecker the common name he did in a book he wrote in the early 1700’s.

Linnaeus later changed the bird’s scientific name from Picus ventre rubro (venter, Latin for belly; ruber, Latin for red) to Picus carolinus (woodpecker from Carolina) — it has since been changed to Melanerpes carolinus. Still, Linnaeus retained Catesby’s common name, red-bellied, which remains unchanged to this day.

The slight blush of rose on the red-bellied woodpecker’s belly feathers hardly seems prevalent enough to warrant a bird being named for it, yet that is exactly what happened. Usually if a bird’s name is descriptive (eastern bluebird, black-throated green warbler, scarlet tanager, etc.) it does just that – describes its appearance. Not so much in this case, however.– Mary Holland

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Photo Courtesy of Mary Holland

1/8 – Manhattan, New York City: In the last month I have found seven different warblers, relatively out-of-season, at Swindler’s Cove: Nashville, orange crowned, pine, yellow-rumped, black-and-white, common yellowthroat, and palm warbler. Swindler’s Cove is in the northeastern end of Manhattan and is a tranquil and wonderful place to observe birds.– Wandermann

1/9 – Hudson River Watershed: Moose (Alces americanus) are ruminants and as such have stomachs which are highly specialized for the microbial fermentation of food. Without this adaptation, they could not digest their high fiber diet. Mastication, grinding of food into smaller pieces, is their primary method for the physical breakdown of plant material. By breaking down food into smaller pieces, the surface area increases microbial digestion.

Moose

Photo Courtesy of Mary Holland

Moose chew their food twice, and the rate at which they chew varies. Their spring and summer diet, that consists of leaves of deciduous browse and aquatic plants, is more digestible than the woody browse they eat during winter due to the relatively small amount of lignin (used in the formation of cell walls) it contains. The more lignin, the more intensely the cud/bolus (food previously eaten) is chewed. The amount of chewing a regurgitated bolus receives can vary from 24 to 107 chews per minute. In the spring, when food is succulent, one study showed that moose chewed food at about 62 chews per bolus (a soft mass of chewed food), compared with a high of 133 in winter.– Mary Holland

[On October 3, 2010, a bull moose visited the Mid-Hudson Valley at Beacon (river mile 61) having wandered over from western Connecticut. After a bit more wandering, the moose bedded down in a forest of mixed hardwoods just south of the city and just north of Fishkill Creek.

DEC had a concern that the moose might wander out into traffic and cause a ruckus, so I had the lucky opportunity to moose-watch for an afternoon, sitting propped up against an oak about sixty feet away. The moose did not seem to care that I was there, and steadfastly ignored me.

While I watched the moose, I thought of “mega-fauna,” a term paleontologists use to describe the huge mammals that lived in the Hudson Valley 12,000 years ago, such as mastodons, mammoths, elk-moose, and even regular moose. This one’s head was the size of an ice chest; his antlers were like a roof rack on a car.

I was relieved in early evening by the next moose-watcher and later learned that the moose had gotten up and slowly moved east, the way he had arrived, toward East Fishkill. Within a day, this huge mega-fauna had disappeared. Tom Lake]

Moose in Beacon, NY

Photo Courtesy of Tom Lake

1/10 – Hudson River Watershed: In a season where we search for brighter days, the sun rose at 7:11 this morning, one minute earlier than yesterday. This was the first day off additional morning light since June 1, when we lost one minute of sunrise.– National Weather Service

1/10– Saratoga Lake, HRM182: We relocated the rare, tufted duck, first spotted on January 4, on Saratoga Lake this morning. It was in with a loose mix of scaup and hooded mergansers. Initially, in our search, we made the mistake of looking for the duck’s “pony tail” or fallen crest, but this is not always easy to see. What stands out is the bright white sides contrasting with the dark back. It resembles a drake ring-necked duck.– John Hershey, Ron Harrower (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

1/10 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: Hudson River Park’s River Project staff checked our research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy at Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey. We were hoping for our first fish of 2024, and there it was, a white perch (180 mm).

During the colder months, we generally see our lowest catch rates, so it’s always a pleasant surprise to collect fish during the winter season. In the 36 years this survey has been cataloguing fish biodiversity in Hudson River Park, this marks the first time that we have collected a white perch in January.– Siddhartha Hayes, Avalon Daly

Two people enjoying looking at the turtle in a research tank. One is taking a photo of the turtle

Photo Courtesy of Tina Walsh

1/11 – Hudson River Estuary/New York Bight: With real winter upon us, a season that will extend through March, please keep an eye out for stranded sea turtles. Those that have not yet migrated south can become victims of paralyzing “cold stunning,” which is like hypothermia. It gives them the appearance of death, but they are really in dire need of recovery and resuscitation. Do not put them back in the water. The Atlantic Marine Conservation Society recently collected two sea turtle (Kemp’s Ridley and Atlantic Green) that had been cold-stunned but rescued in time for them to recover.

If you come upon a sick, injured, entangled, or deceased sea turtle or any marine mammal, immediately call the New York State Stranding Hotline at (631) 369-9829. If you have photos or videos, please send them to sightings@nullamseas.org. Learn more information at the NOAA website.– Kim Durham, Co-New York State Sea Turtle Coordinator for the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society

Green Sea Turtle

Photo of Green Sea Turtle Courtesy of NOAA

1/11 – Fort Edward, HRM 202: There was a lot of action at the Washington County Grasslands Wildlife Management Area today. At the trailhead, I came upon a northern harrier being mobbed by crows. A dark morph rough-legged hawk put on quite a show fluttering up and down over the fields where short-eared owls are often seen.

Another birder saw a light morph rough-legged in the same spot moments before I arrived. On the other side of the river, we had a dark morph rough-legged and a male northern harrier hunting the same field.– Susan Beaudoin (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

1/11 – Saratoga Lake, HRM 182: The tufted duck was still present this morning conveniently near the church on the east side of Saratoga Lake. I also saw a male and female redhead duck and a female canvasback. You may not see another tufted duck for a long time unless you travel to Europe.– John Hershey (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club).

1/12 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 251 is the cobia (Rachycentron canadum), number 172 (of 237), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.comCobia is a marine fish found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters. In the western Atlantic, they range from Canada to Argentina including the Gulf of Mexico and the entire Caribbean. Cobia is monotypic, in that it is the only extant (existing) species in the genus Rachycentron and the family Rachycentridae.

Cobia can get to six-feet-long and weigh 150 lb. The International Gamefish Association all-tackle world record is 135 lb., 9 oz, from Shark Bay, Australia (1985). The largest known cobia, 172 lb., was a spear-caught fish from Brazil where they are called, in Portuguese, bijupira, or “tasty fish.”

C. Lavett Smith describes the cobia as a rugged, heavy-bodied elongate fish with a projecting lower jaw and a broad flat head. Perhaps it is the physically impressive nature of cobia, or their immense popularity with anglers, that elicits a compendium of colloquial names such as black kingfish, black salmon, black bonito, ling, lemonfish, and prodigal son. While they relish eating fish, they heavily favor crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp. Their predilection for blue crabs has earned them the colloquial name “crabeater.” Cobia’s color, primarily dark brown, lends to another colloquial name of “chocolate fish.”

Briggs and Waldman (2002) note they are “uncommon but regular” in the New York Bight. In our watershed, where they are designated as a temperate marine stray, cobia is uncommon to rare. Early cobia records from the estuary include a 31-inch cobia from New York Harbor in 1815, another from New York Harbor in 1872, and a 37-inch cobia collected in a minnow seine in Croton Bay, river mile 34, in 1890.

Recent records from the DEC Region 3 Fisheries Unit include a cobia caught in 2015, another in 2016, a young-of-year in 2017 during their Striped Bass Beach Seine survey, and ten individuals in 1989 from DEC’s Alosine [herring] Beach Seine survey.

To some sport anglers, cobia is a legendary, even mythical, fish. They are uncommonly caught, especially in numbers, owing to their solitary habits. My interest in cobia began when I came upon a copy of the Staten Island Advance from August 16, 1966. The edition had an impressive photo of a 42 lb. 52-inch-long cobia, captured in Raritan Bay (adjunct to our estuary).

“The angler, Martin Collins, in a rowboat among 100 other larger boats, was fishing in a chum line that had produced a red hot run of bluefish. After a sound strike, the fight was on. At one point, the fish came to the surface and jumped clear of the water. Only then did Martin Collins realize he had a monster in tow” (Guin Polevoy).– ElizaBeth Streifeneder, Bob Schmidt, Tom Lake

Cobia

Photo Courtesy of The Smithsonian

1/12 – Town of Poughkeepsie: The adults in bald eagle nest NY62, beginning their 24th breeding season in their 4th location, seem altogether comfortable in their newly–constructed nest.– Bob Rightmyer

Two Bald Eagles in their nest

Photo Courtesy of Bob Rightmyer

1/12 – Hudson River Watershed: In winter, North America porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum), rather than build their own dens, seek out ready-made natural den sites, such as rock outcrops, hollow logs and trees, even abandoned beaver lodges. Regardless of where they are, porcupine dens are often conspicuous because scat accumulates at the entry of the rock or log den, or at the base of an occupied tree, where it spills out from the den.

If you find a tree with a pile of scat at its base, and perhaps several paths leading to nearby food sources such as hemlock trees, look up to see if there is a cavity in the tree. Porcupines often return to the same den year after year; occasionally I have found that if a tree is being reused, whether by the same or a different individual, porcupines often chew patches of bark off at or near the entrance to the opening of the den. One can only surmise that this is perhaps a visual signal to other porcupines and tree-dwelling creatures that the tree is currently claimed.– Mary Holland

Porcupine Den in a tree trunk

Photo Courtesy of Mary Holland


Winter 2024 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.