Black Bears

Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program

Compiled and edited by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

Winter bird counts continued this week. They ultimately give us an idea of the species richness and diversity, as well as an appreciation of the wildlife that we share on the water, in the fields and in the forests.


Highlight of the Week

1/14 – Columbia County, HRM 115: The air temperature hit 54 degrees Fahrenheit (F) today and an eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) appeared in my backyard in Claverack. I cannot recall ever seeing a live snake in January. I sent a picture to Al Breisch, NYSDEC Herpetologist (ret.), and he said, likewise, he had never seen a snake in December or January. Al added this record to his herpetology file.– Salvartore Cozzolino

Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) – courtesy of Kyle Brooks


Natural History Entries

1/13 – Ulster County, HRM 92: The John Burroughs Natural History Society Ulster County segment of the annual New York State January Waterfowl Count was conducted today. Thirteen participants in eight field parties encountered 4,789 individual birds representing 16 species of waterfowl. In 2023, we tallied 8,727 individuals of 19 species. Our most recent ten-year average for this countywide effort is 6,638 individuals of 14 species.

Two female Barrow’s goldeneyes (Bucephala islandica) were spotted on the Hudson River at Port Ewen and the Town of Esopus, representing our second all-time count record following last year’s inaugural sighting of one hen. A greater white-fronted goose, a cackling goose, and two green-winged teal were spotted within a flock of 600 Canada geese in a flooded farm field and pond in Gardiner. The greater white-fronted goose was only our third count record over the past twenty years, previously recorded in 2016 and 2010.

Gadwall established a new high count with a total of 43 individuals double our previous high count of 16 in 2016 and well-above our ten-year average of four. Ring-necked duck was also encountered in record high numbers (162) eclipsing our previous high count of 55 in 2022.Canada Geese were the most abundant species, accounting for 3,729 individuals (78%), down from last year’s 7,688 and our ten-year average of 5,049.

Additional water-dependent birds observed during the waterfowl count include 23 bald eagles (twenty adults), three great blue herons, and two belted kingfishers.

Thanks to Alan Beebe, Allan Bowdery, Lynn Bowdery, Mark Damian, Patrick Dechon, Mark DeDea, Jessica Prockup, Loren Quinby, Peter Schoenberger, Dan Spencer, Wendy Tocci, and Michelle Valiante for providing extensive coverage of the county.– Steve M. Chorvas (Compiler)

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s goldeneyes (Bucephala islandica)

1/13 – Orange County: we participated in the Mearns Bird Club’s Orange County Winter Waterfowl Count. We covered the Black Dirt Region for the survey, primarily the towns of Warwick, Goshen, and Wawayanda.

Typically, in mid-January, there isn’t much open water, but with this season’s recent rains and warm temperatures, all bodies of water were open. The rain resulted in much flooding, creating waterfowl habitat where normally there wouldn’t be any — we had a pair of northern pintails and a green-winged teal in the middle of a flooded corn field. Finally, in a bit of luck, a large group of snow geese flew over (more than 2,500 birds); later we found a decent-sized flock of snow geese (about 700 birds), that had put down at the Camel Farm.

The single disappointment was, that despite the large number of Canada and snow geese, we were unable to locate any rare geese such as cackling or greater white-fronted. Still, it was probably the most enjoyable Winter Waterfowl Survey we’ve done yet.– Matt Zeitler, Linda Scrima

Snow geese in flight

Snow geese – courtesy of Matt Zeitler

1/14 – Albany County, HRM 145: Unseasonably warm air and soil temperatures in late December and early January resulted in apparent confusion among Reptiles and amphibians.

December 28 was a warm (50 degrees) rainy night and, as my wife and I walked down our driveway, we came upon a pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris), a red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus), and an Allegheny Mountain salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus). On January 1, my daughter and I walked to the wetland across the road from our home in New Scotland and found two northern dusky salamanders (D. fuscus) and another pickerel frog.

A friend reported a road-killed garter snake in Voorheesville (Albany County) on December 27. Two others told him that the tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) were returning to their breeding grounds on Long Island.

When I told our other daughter who lives near Malone, eleven miles from Canada, we found that she had checked her Ambystoma kansensis breeding pond and found a two-inch-long spotted salamander larva (A. maculatum) that had not metamorphosed in the fall. I expect that it was too short of a breeding season, but that was still quite unexpected.– Al Breisch

Pickerel Frog

Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris) – courtesy of Scot Bolick

[For more Herpetological information of the watershed from Al Breisch see The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State: Identification, Natural History, and Conservation (2007), and The Snake and the Salamander: Reptiles and Amphibians from Maine to Virginia (2017).

1/15 – Hudson River Watershed: If you are hiking along damp, shady and mossy cliffs and boulders that are not yet buried under snow, keep an eye out for rosettes formed by the fronds of maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), one of several evergreen ferns. It was felt that the linear, spleen-shaped sori (clusters of spore cases) on the backs of the fertile fronds indicated that the plant could be used to treat ailments of the spleen, thus leading to its common name.

In the summer, the fertile fronds (those bearing spores) are upright while the smaller sterile fronds spread horizontally. The shiny purple-brown stem, or stipe, and the tiny oval leaflets (pinnae) that are opposite one another are key identification characteristics.– Mary Holland

Maidenhair.Spleenwort

Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) – courtesy of Will Cook


Fish of the Week

1/15 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 252 is the feather blenny (Hypsoblennius hentz) number 206 (of 237) on our watershed list of fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail: trlake7@nullaol.com.

The feather blenny is a small, scaleless, mottled brownish-black fish with fleshy cirri (“feathers”) on their head. 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 (bottom) dwellers where they often burrow in the soft substrate 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 placed on a small stone. Being saltwater fish, they are limited to the lower estuary where they can find, minimally, 12.0 parts-per-thousand (ppt) salinity (full sea water is 32-35 ppt). They can grow to 100 millimeters (mm).

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

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

Feather Blenny

Feather blenny (Hypsoblennius hentz) – courtesy of Siddhartha Hayes

1/16 – Bethel, HRM 92: We have had two Carolina wrens at our bird feeders this winter. I am overjoyed and a bit surprised to see that these Carolina wren are wintering here. The past two summers, the Carolina wrens like to either make a nest in the hanging baskets on our front porch or simply sleep in the hanging baskets. They have such a unique sound, described by Roger Tory Peterson as “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea.”.– Susan Brown Otto

[Bethel is in the Delaware River watershed, directly adjacent to the west of the Hudson River. However, since birds will fly, we occasionally use editorial discretion to include interesting entries from next door. Tom Lake]

The Carolina wren was considered a southern species until recent times. The first record in Dutchess County was May 5-6, 1891, at Stanfordville (Duby Mary Hyatt). More were seen infrequently until the early 1950s after which it was regularly found here. In his Common Land Birds of New England (1895), M.A. Wilcox does not mention the Carolina Wren, among all the other birds you’d expect. Stan DeOrsey, Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club]

Carolina wren

Carolina wren – courtesy of John Badura

1/17 – Hudson River Watershed: Your chances of seeing a North American river otter are greatest during the winter, when this nocturnal/crepuscular member of the weasel family is more likely to be active during the day. Often found near water, they pop up for a breath of air in openings in the ice created by tides, springs, beavers, or muskrats.

When you see an otter with its head above water, know that this position requires the otter to be treading water, or sculling its tail back and forth, the entire time it is at the surface due to being “negatively buoyant” — a term that refers to the otter being denser than the water it replaces.– Mary Holland

Two river otters in the water

North American river otters – courtesy of Mary Holland

1/17 – Norrie Point, HRM 85: Any mention of river otters, reminds us of our Hudson River Almanac’s first memorable encounter with otters twenty years ago. It was February 21, 2004, and 75 of us had gathered with spotting scopes and field glasses on the back patio of the Norrie Point Environmental Education Center in Staatsburg

The river was frozen bank-to-bank except for a narrow strip in the channel where the ice was chunked up in loose floes and passing us by in the down tide. A bald eagle was perched in a pine on Esopus Island that many people were calling an “albino.” It had a white head and tail, but also had broad white streak on its back. This was likely a “new” adult. Author Peter Dunne calls them a “white extreme.” Within a month or so, the eagle would eclipse into a full-fledged adult. Nearby, in another white pine, was a lone raven.

It was not long before our attention was drawn to the other side, Ulster County, of the river. A small, dark animal was headed our way “rambling” out onto the ice. It was a river otter with its unmistakable galloping gait. The otter came out to the edge of solid ice and then worked its way down river for several hundred yards, visiting spots where eagles had been feeding looking for leftovers. An adult bald eagle was feeding on a gizzard shad out on an ice floe. Having had its fill, the bird flew off and within seconds was replaced by a river otter that had climbed up on the ice floe. The otter ate the leftovers.

As a finale, a Moran tug came upriver pushing a big red barge, the Maria T. As the barge broke through the ice it sounded like cannons booming.– Tom Lake

River otter standing on the ice

River otter – courtesy of Amy Comerford

1/17 – Manhattan, HRM 1-2: One day after NYC’s first snowfall in nearly two years, despite frozen ropes and frigid temperatures, our Hudson River Park’s River Project staff checked the research gear (pots and traps) that we deploy at Piers 26 and 40 as part of our fish ecology survey.

While no fish were collected, we did encounter sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa) at our southern survey site (Pier 26) in Hudson River Park. Grass shrimp (Palaemon pugio or P. vulgaris) are more common throughout our research gear, so it is always a nice surprise to see these intricately speckled crustaceans.– Toland Kister, Sierra Drury

sand shrimp on someone's index finger

Sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa) – courtesy of Molly Jacobson

1/18 – Saratoga County, HRM 200: We found a gathering of field birds in Northumberland on a big manure spread. We counted eight Lapland longspurs mixed in with about 60 horned larks and 30 snow buntings. We also found smaller smatterings of buntings and larks in other areas.– Gregg Recer, Cathy Graichen (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Cub)

[Manure, especially manure of cows and horses, as well as hay or straw used for bedding of livestock, can provide birds with food (invertebrates, grain residues, other indigestible items) that can be especially important during winter when food availability is substantially reduced (Orłowski et al. 2014).]

Lapland Longspur

Lapland longspurs – courtesy of Andrew Simon

1/18 – Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 67.5: We finally had eagles on ice floes today. The tidal Wappinger Creek had a thin smattering of ice, much of it loose and moving, but firm enough for a pair of adult bald eagles to take a ride on the outgoing tide. They seemed to be just enjoying the moment rather than intent on fishing. Although, it is not easy to tell — their inscrutable expression never changes.– Tom Lake

Bald eagle

Bald eagle – courtesy of Deborah Tracy Kral

1/19 – Hudson River Estuary: I have undertaken a search for information on the Hudson River tidewater range of the eastern mud snail–mud dog whelk (Ilyanassa obsoleta or Tritia obsoleta). They are a class of Gastropod within the phylum Mollusca.

I am trying to find out what is known about them, where they occur and their supporting habitat. Being rather intolerant of freshwater, I am hoping to discover how far up the estuary they are found. You may encounter them during your work on the river and from that I am hoping to hear where you’ve found them, or even where it looks like they should be, but are not.

Please e-mail me your thoughts, comments, and photos to russell.l.burke@nullhofstra.edu.

Dr. Russell BurkeProfessor, Dept. of Biology, Hofstra University

Three Eastern mud snails

Eastern Mud Snail – courtesy of Chandler Olsen

1/19 – Hudson River Watershed: Beaver are furry wetlands residents with big teeth and a paddle tail. They have been New York State’s official mammal since 1975. From the time of the earliest settlers, beavers were sought for their pelts. Beaver skin was traded heavily into the 19th century thanks to the European fashion industry. At the same time, New York’s timber, on which beavers rely, was also in high demand. Demand for both the fur and timber was so high, in fact that the species was almost eradicated from the Adirondacks by 1840.

With the restoration of forests in the 20th Century and beaver fur going out of fashion, beaver populations have since rebounded. So much so, in fact, that they had become a $5.5 million nuisance by the 1940s. Since then, both management and protection policies have been established to ensure healthy population numbers. Today there are an estimated 10-15 million beavers in North America. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there were once between 60 and 400 million beavers in North America before European settlers arrived.– Adirondack Mountain Club

[To indigenous New Yorkers, along with the white-tailed deer, the beaver was a high-valued natural resource. While they were a good food source, their skins and pelts were a staple for survival. Beaver pelts were fashioned into reversible shirts, dresses, and trousers. In winter, the fur side was worn against the skin for warmth, in warm weather, the fur side faced out to assist with cooling. Tom Lake]

beaver

Beaver – courtesy of Deborah Tracy Kral


Winter 2024 Natural History Programs and Events

Endangered Sturgeon in the Hudson: Secrets from a Fisheries Biologist

Saturday, January 27 3:00 p.m. — Saint Mary’s Parish House in Cold Spring

Fisheries biologist Amanda Higgs has been working on the Hudson for decades, catching, tagging, and studying Atlantic and Short-nosed Sturgeon, two federally-endangered fish that have existed since the Late Triassic Period, about 130 million years ago. Come hear a real working biologist describe her hands-on and hands-wet conservation work.Sponsored by Putnam Highlands Audubon Society.

Register to attend

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.