John Burroughs wrote his observations of the Hudson River Valley in his journals before they were reworked into articles and essays. This spirit of “Sharp Eyes,” the close observation of the natural world throughout our region, persists today in individuals as well as collective efforts like the Hudson River Almanac. A journal of natural history covering the Hudson from the Adirondacks to Manhattan, it is compiled by editor Tom Lake and has included over 1,700 authors since it began in 1993. In addition to being online and distributed via e-mail, you can order back-issues through Purple Mountain Press, Ltd. (800-325-2665). It is available for $10 plus New York State sales tax and $3.50 for shipping. E-mail address is: Purple@mail.catskill.net
We’ve included some selections below to provide an idea of what you will find when you visit the Almanac at http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/25611.html.
7/2: New Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: In late afternoon the air temperature had climbed to 95°F. The heat index was 104°F. The eaglet was perched in the nest, tongue hanging out, panting. I was surprised when he bounced across the nest, flapped his wings furiously, raised up a bit (at this point I was silently saying “go for it!”) but then stopped, right at the edge, peered down, and then settled in the shade. He would not be leaving the nest today. –Tom Lake
5/8: New Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: This was the second day of a screaming north wind, gusting over 20 mph, and the nest tree was doing its usual swaying and leaning. Being a supple white pine, it could easily list 10°. To the Mama and her nestlings, it may have seemed like a carnival ride. There was still no indication if there was more than one baby eagle. Directly under the nest tree I found the carcass of a small striped skunk, eviscerated. Eagles have little or no sense of smell. –Tom Lake
4/13: Eagle Nest NY62, Dutchess County: At dawn, Mama was alone in the nest. She was in her incubating posture, hunkered down. After a while she stood, stretched, and moved to the side of the nest with a view out to the river. I saw movement on the other side: A small, skinny, wobbly, fuzzy-headed nestling peered over the lip of the nest, a 4 day-old baby bald eagle! –Tom Lake
5/31: Eagle Nest 124, Westchester County: This new bald eagle nest, designated NY124, is now the southernmost on the tidewater Hudson. Pete Nye climbed the tree, a huge white pine, to the nest at least 115' off the ground. He found raccoon scat on a horizontal limb near the top, evidence of an earlier predator. To prevent this from happening again, we applied a “predator guard” around the 12½' circumference of the tree. These are a broad and slick band of sheet metal tacked in place just above the ground that raccoons, opossum and others cannot get above.
There were two chicks: a female estimated to be about 7½ weeks old, and a male about 6½ weeks. The remains of 2 huge white catfish were also in the nest, among the favorite foods of eaglets. Pete lowered the male chick down to us in a special bag. The second eaglet was too large to be lowered, so she was banded in the nest.
We took the male eaglet out of the bag and put a soft hood on his head to calm him. If raptors cannot see, they often remain still. This was not a true falconer’s “hood,” but rather a child’s soft sock with the toes cut out. I held the eaglet, his huge yellow, sharp-taloned feet in one hand and the other applying gentle pressure to his chest to keep him in place. I could feel his rapid heartbeat against the palm of my hand. As I looked down into his dark, blinking eyes under the hood, I thought: If he meets with good fortune he will fledge in a month, spend the next four years learning to be an eagle, exploring, making contacts with other birds, eventually finding a mate for life, nesting, and rearing his own young, for the next 30 years.
We finished our task: a blood sample, some measurements like the hallux (rear) talon to estimate its sex, the length of the 8th primary feather to estimate age, and a few others—an impromptu physical. It was hot and humid on the forest floor—the eaglet panted, his tongue pulsed, he reached up and took my fingers in his beak and gave a small squeeze. It was time to return him to the nest in the tree top. Once back in place with the other nestling, in less than an hour life in the forest canopy would resume its normal pace. The female, banded in the nest, is R85. The male, banded down below, R84. –Steve Joule, Chris Desorbo, Pete Nye, Tom Lake
9/13: Haverstraw Bay, Westchester County: Margaret Eberle was just going for a leisurely walk along the river but as she glanced down at the pebbles and cobbles along the shore she spotted what looked to her like an Indian “arrowhead.” The projectile point (spear point) was what archaeologist’s call a Sylvan Side-notched, meticulously chipped from gray chert, probably dating to about 4,000 years ago, and at least two millennia before bow and arrow technology came to the Hudson Valley. The artisan who made this spear point was an ancestor of those who greeted Henry Hudson in 1609. These were Algonquian speakers, related to the Lenape, Munsee, Wappinger, and possibly Mohican people who lived in the area around Haverstraw Bay. –Tom Lake
9/18: Town of Wallkill, Orange County, HRM 57: In two years we will celebrate the September 1609 arrival of Henry Hudson, marking 400 years of Western culture in the Hudson Valley. Today we held two spear points in our hands that had just showed up in one of our excavation screens. The two styles, a Rossville and a Vosburg, suggested that Native People had visited the south end of this hilltop, overlooking the Wallkill River, off and on for 3,000 years. For us, this air of antiquity created a perspective for the deep time of the Hudson River Valley. –Tom Lake, Kris Mierisch, Tom Wilson, Jeanette LeClair
5/20: Green Island, Albany County, HRM 152: Just after 9:00 p.m., the sky in the east took on a silver glow that precedes moon rise. The tide was halfway out and ebbing. A thousand dimples out on the river marked the presence of shad, river herring, and many other fish This was the night of the full moon in May, the Corn Planting Moon to many Native people. It was going to be a quick glimpse, however, as a thick gray cloud bank was poised just above the horizon to capture the moon. –Tom Lake
6/28: South Mount Beacon, Dutchess County, HRM 60: The sun was struggling through the summer haze to the northeast. To be here by dawn, I had to begin my hike before first light. At 1635 feet, this is the highest point in the valley between the Catskills and the sea. Twenty pairs of vulture eyes watched me from the iron work of the old fire tower. It was still too early to lift off. Three ravens were silhouetted in the sky to the east.
A cool southwest breeze dried my shirt after the long hike. On the way up I was disappointed to find that many of the hiking trails of my youth had grown over, vanished. Few people walk here anymore; many are on ATVs. The woods were alive with the flute-like song of the wood thrush and the plaintive call of the eastern wood pewee: “Pewee? Pewee!” The approach to the summit was bracketed by mountain laurel in full bloom and it had attracted at least one male ruby throated hummingbird and two monarchs.
This is a special place where striped maple dominates the understory and American chestnut trees still grow, although never very tall. The largest I found had a circumference of eight-inches. It was here, a decade ago, that I came upon the largest bobcat tracks I have ever seen. They were bobcat-bordering-on-puma size, set in the muddy ground. She was not far off, either, as water droplets from her stride had not yet evaporated off the rocks. Today, a doe and her two tiny fawns galloped over the rocks and disappeared into the bright green forest. –Tom Lake
7/19: North Germantown, Columbia County, HRM 109: I was snorkeling near midday in the shallows just upriver of the DEC boat launch. The ebb tide brought clouds of young-of-the-year striped bass and herring, swirling into the scattered beds of wild celery. As I drifted, shoals of banded killifish flushed from their cover and dozens of tessellated darters scooted off across the sandy bottom. One of my favorite summer moments is enjoying the exquisite view of the electric blue damselflies from underwater. They hover overhead in twos and threes just off the surface, sunlight refracting and reflecting from a thousand facets—from insects to water ripples to my face mask. The air was 95°, the river was 84°F., a real sauna. –Tom Lake
Under contract to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Hudson River Almanac project is coordinated by Tom Lake with additional support from the Greenway Conservancy for the Hudson River Valley Inc.; the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Environmental Research; and the J. P. Morgan Kaplan Fund publication program.
To contribute observations to the Hudson River Almanac, write to Tom Lake, 3 Steinhaus Lane, Wappingers Falls, NY 12590-3927, fax 845-297-8935, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.