Hudson River Almanac 10/31/2020 - 11/06/2020

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
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Hudson River Almanac
October 31 - November 6, 2020

A Project of the Hudson River Estuary Program
Compiled by Tom Lake, Consulting Naturalist

COVID-19 Guidance for Enjoying the Outdoors
While enjoying outdoor spaces, please continue to follow the CDC/NYSDOH guidelines for preventing the spread of colds, flu, and COVID-19. To find out more about enjoying DEC lands and New York's State Parks, visit DEC's website Play Smart*Play Safe*Play Local;

Keep at least six (6) feet of distance between you and others.
Wear a cloth face covering in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, and kissing.
Wash hands often or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
Avoid surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs, handrails, and playground equipment.

DEC recommends avoiding busy trailheads. Find the trails less traveled and visit when trails may not be as busy during daylight hours.


Our Highlight this week comes from a rare visitor from the far West. These occurrences remind us how much our watershed is connected to the rest of the Americas. On Halloween, we made our annual pilgrimage to visit a kindred soul.

COVID-19 remains a cloud over social gatherings making our solo treks, or those with family and trusted friends, that much more precious. As we derive spiritual sustenance from the river, a sensible approach is for all of us to keep our heads above water and wait for the tide to go out.

Highlight of the Week

Sage thrasher11/4 – Columbia County, HRM 128: Barbara Sylvester photographed a sage thrasher at Ooms Conservation Area in Chatham today. The bird was favoring buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) shrubbery. (Photo of sage thrasher courtesy of Zach Schwartz-Weinstein)
- Zach Schwartz-Weinstein (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

Note: On 11/9, Scott Stoner (Naturelogues) was able to get a sterling image of the bird. “The light was good, and the bird was in view for a long time—it was just me and the thrasher!”

[The sage thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) is a medium-sized western songbird of the Mimidae family, which also include mockingbirds and New World catbirds. As their common name suggests, they favor sagebrush habitats, a biome that is in decline in western North America, their native range.

The sage thrasher is very rare in our area (John Kent). Bull’s Birds—John Bull's Birds of New York State, the go-to publication for New York State birders since 1974—lists four substantiated records in New York State before 1973: two upstate and two on Long Island. The only previous New York record in eBird is from Jamaica Bay (2019). Tom Lake]  

Natural History Entries

10/27 – Manhattan, HRM 2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project Staff checked the sampling and collection gear that we deploy off Pier 40 in Hudson River Park today. We found that our pots and traps had collected several exciting fishes including a 50 millimeter(mm), young-of-year, oyster toadfish, a 140 mm lined seahorse, an adult, 320 mm, tautog, and a whopping 400 mm (16-inches) summer flounder!
-Siddhartha Hayes, Anna Koskol

(one inch = 25.4 millimeters (mm))

Northern parula warbler 10/31 – Delmar, HRM 143: We walked around the Five-Rivers Environmental Education Center this afternoon and enjoyed some great looks at a northern parula and a Tennessee warbler. They were foraging low in some weeds by the start of the Birder's Trail near the Heron Pond. (Photo of northern parula warbler courtesy of Chris Edwardson)
- Cindy Edwardson, Chris Edwardson (Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club)

10/31 – Hudson Valley: At 6:13 PM this evening, a special full moon rose over the horizon. It was a “Blue Moon,” the second full moon in the month, after October 1. This occurs once about every three years, or “Once in a Blue Moon!” While a Blue Moon seems rare, a full moon on Halloween is even more rare, an event that last occurred in 1944.
- National Weather Service.

Blue moon10/31 – Hudson Valley: We watched a hauntingly beautiful and bright full moon over the estuary this evening. While Halloween celebrations may not have looked like past years, the gravitational pull by that full moon on the Hudson's waters were comfortingly familiar. The extreme high and low tidal levels that coincide with the full moon are one of the rhythms on the river that impact the ecological community and the people visiting Hudson shorelines. In the time of COVID, the Hudson River Estuary Program Education Team has been documenting these physical phenomena and sharing them with students, teachers, parents, and caregivers in the region with our Virtual River Series of short videos and corresponding lesson plans. See below for more information on our Tide Finder video. (Photo of blue moon courtesy of Mario Meier)
- Maija Liisa Niemisto, Chris Bowser

Little skate egg case10/31 – Hyde Park, HRM 80: All Hallows Eve. For many fans of the season, Halloween is a time to dress up scary and go in search of tricks-or-treats. We have our own tradition. Today was our 12th annual pilgrimage to the grave of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit theologian, anthropologist, paleontologist, and renowned naturalist who died in 1955 and was buried on the grounds of the Culinary Institute. Due to COVID concerns on campus, today’s visit was tricky.

Teilhard de Chardin spent much of his life searching for common ground between religious dogma and natural history, reconciling his faith with modern science. That made him a truly unique individual in his time. Amidst a hundred or more identical gravestones, de Chardin’s is easy to find. There are frequently flowers and always a collection of items–tokens of natural history–left by those paying homage.

In the spirit of de Chardin’s interest in evolutionary biology and his love of the natural sciences, we left an egg case from a little skate (Leucoraja erinacea). These are known colloquially, and variously, as Devil's pocketbook, Devil's purse, Mermaid's purse, or Sailor's purse. Teilhard de Chardin would have loved to contemplate the myriad adaptations this fish had made over eons to perfect its vehicle for reproduction. (Photo of little egg skate case courtesy of Tom Lake)
- Tom Lake

[This Halloween tradition is a low-profile, unofficial version of such better known examples as “roses and cognac” to Edgar Allan Poe’s crypt in Baltimore or “flowers and poetry” to Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. In the instance of de Chardin, it is very simply a means of remembering a kindred soul. For more in-depth thought on Teilhard de Cardin, see The Jesuit and the Skull by Amir D. Aczel (2007). Tom Lake]

Red-shouldered hawk10/31 – Bedford, HRM 35: We spotted 83 migrating raptors at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today; red-shouldered hawk was high count with 40, our second-best number this fall. Today’s flight of migrants was primarily turkey vultures (182; and one black vulture). The highlight was our third golden eagle of the season. Non-raptor migrants included several hundred Canada geese, as well as more than 2000 common grackles, 38 cedar waxwings, seven pine siskins, and an immature evening grosbeak headed west over the ridge. (Photo of red-shouldered hawk courtesy of Bria Rusnica)
- Richard Aracil, Jason Tellone, Karen Troche, Pedro Troche

10/31 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We spotted 157 migrating raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today. Red-shouldered hawk was high count with 77, a number that was second only to October 26, 2018, when we counted 78. Today’s flight was dominated by vultures: turkey vultures (70); black vultures (41). Non-raptor migrants included a single monarch butterfly.
- Vince Plogar, Felicia Napier, Steve Sachs, Tom Fiore

11/1 – Bedford, HRM 35: We spotted 20 migrating raptors at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today; sharp-shinned hawk was high count with eight. The highlight was our third golden eagle of the season. Non-raptor migrants included 26 pine siskins, 26 purple finches, 28 cedar waxwings, and the highlight of the day, six evening grosbeaks that headed west over the ridge not far from the counting platform.
- Richard Aracil, Karen Troche, Pedro Troche

11/1 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We spotted 21 migrating raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today; sharp-shinned hawk was high count with six. Non-raptor migrants included four common ravens.
- Felicia Napier

11/2 – Bedford, HRM 35: We spotted 30 migrating raptors at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today; bald eagle was high count with eight. Eighty-six percent of the flight today (171 birds) were vultures (turkey vultures 169; black vultures 2). Non-raptor migrants included 22 pine siskins, eleven purple finches, 44 cedar waxwings, and nine common loons.
- Richard Aracil, Karen Troche, Pedro Troche

11/2 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We spotted 30 migrating raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today; red-tailed hawk was high count with 14. This was a slow day for hawks but not for the winds which blew at 15-20 miles-per-hour (mph) with gusts up to 43 mph—gusts being more frequent than steady winds. Often it sounded like a train passing by to the west of us. Because of the strong winds, we brought some rope and tied our 20-pound backpack to the tripod to weigh it down.
- Ajit I. Antony, Liza Antony

*** Fish of the Week ***
Little skate11/2 – Hudson River Watershed: Fish-of-the-Week for Week 95 is the little skate, Leucoraja erinacea (Mitchill, 1825), number 8 (of 234), on our Hudson River Watershed List of Fishes. If you would like a copy of our list, e-mail:

The little skate is a cartilaginous, non-bony, fish belonging to the family Rajidae. There are two skates in the watershed, the other being the barndoor skate. The little skate is classified as a seasonally resident marine species and are native to the western Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras. They are most abundant in the northern Mid-Atlantic Bight where they prefer inshore shallows with a sandy, muddy, or gravelly substrate.

As a benthic-loving flatfish, the diet of the little skate consists mostly of invertebrates such as crustaceans, amphipods, isopods, bivalves, squid, sea squirts and occasionally small fishes. They in turn are preyed upon by various sharks, seals, and bluefish. The little skate averages 16-20-inches-long and 8-16-inches-wide.

Little skates are oviparous (produce eggs that hatch outside the mother; see chickens). They produce eggs with a single embryo in a rough and leathery egg capsule that has long, thin, horn-like projections sticking out from each corner. Because the embryos do not have gills until after three weeks of development, the egg cases are waterproof. Small holes then open in the tips of the horns, admitting seawater and the larval skate learns to live as an ocean fish. Eggs may take up to 12 months to hatch, depending on water temperature, at which point they will emerge as perfectly formed miniatures of the adults. Empty egg cases often wash up on the beach and beachcombers like to call them “Mermaid's purses.” Because their optimum salinity range is 29-33 parts-per-thousand (ppt), little skates rarely venture very far upstream into the estuary. (Photo of little skate courtesy of George Burgess)
- Tom Lake

11/3 – Bedford, HRM 35: We spotted 179 migrating raptors at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today, 82 of which were red-shouldered hawks. Many of them were streaming low well to our south. We also spotted two more golden eagles. Vultures (turkey 88; black 5) were collectively high count.

The highlight among the non-raptor migrants was a flock of seven evening grosbeaks headed east. There was a lot of pine siskin movement today (120). We also counted 45 purple finches. Both of those numbers were conservative as there were many distant flocks that we could not identify with certainty but were probably those two species.
- Richard Aracil, Kevin McGrath, Pedro Troche

Northern harrier 11/3 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: A spectacular “gray ghost” flew past low off the north edge at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today. The angled early morning sun illuminated the harrier’s contrasting grays and white rump patch. Overall, we spotted 49 migrating raptors; bald eagle was high count with 13. Turkey vulture and black vulture combined for 23 birds.

We were packing to leave when a group of 17 turkey vultures floated up the east cliff and passed low towards the southwest. One of the birds had a small head, a persistent dihedral wing set, and white patches: a golden eagle. It was distant and when we scoped it, we could not make out white patches. But we did note the diagnostic upturned tips of the primaries, like the winglets on a big jet. When it passed the ridge and flapped its wings it was clearly a golden eagle. Less than two minutes later, another golden eagle was spotted flying west off the north slope. It was an immature with white wing patches and had a white proximal tail patch. (Photo of northern harrier "gray ghost" Courtesy of John Badura)
- John Phillips, Vince Plogar

[The male northern harrier, or marsh hawk, pale with black wing tips, is a light-colored raptor that birders often refer to as the “gray ghost.” Tom Lake]

11/3 – Manhattan, HRM 2: Our Hudson River Park’s River Project Staff checked the sampling and collection gear that we deploy off Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. The colder weather was finally slowing down the River’s denizens as we caught a 240 mm oyster toadfish and 150 mm carapace-width blue crab, both of which were visibly sluggish, making measuring a whole lot easier than usual.
-Toland Kister, Siddhartha Hayes

11/4 – Beacon, HRM 61: Wind is an adversary when it comes to seining. A strong wind transforms a net into a sail. Today’s stiff south wind funneling up a four-mile fetch through the Hudson Highlands had rollers up on the beach dousing us with a chilly spray. We manhandled the net as best as we could through a half-dozen hauls looking to gather data on the day. The net of it all was several dozen young-of-year striped bass (66-82 mm)—always welcome—and the resident species such as spottail shiners and banded killifish. The river was 57 degrees Fahrenheit (F), and the salinity was 2.0 ppt.
- Tom Lake, A. Danforth

11/4 – Bedford, HRM 35: We spotted 142 migrating raptors at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today, 98 of which were red-shouldered hawks. Turkey vulture (103) was high count among non-raptor migrants. We saw two more golden eagles today, making it four in the last two days. There was a huge grackle movement, mainly in the morning, including several flocks easily numbering over 1000 birds each. At one point there was a wide band of grackles passing southwest that stretched from overhead almost to the horizon.
- Richard Aracil, Pedro Troche

11/4 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We spotted 44 migrating raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today, 25 of which were red-shouldered hawks. At 11:00 AM, the wind picked up from the south and the flight abruptly stopped.
- Steve Sachs

Harbor seal11/5 – Saugerties, HRM 102: We were just returning downriver from the Sojourner Truth landing in Esopus Creek when we spotted a seal swimming very close to shore slowly heading south. (Photo of harbor seal courtesy of Terry Hardy
- John Neidhardt

[This was the seemingly “resident” male harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) that arrived in the river off the Saugerties Lighthouse and Esopus Creek, 113 miles from the sea, 457 days ago, and has not left. He is a rescue seal that carries a white tag (#246) on his rear flipper.

He was rescued on April 28, 2018, from Lower Goose Island, Harpswell, Maine. The pup had been abandoned by its mother for reasons unknown, although it was suspected the pup may have been a premature birth. Medical rehabilitation followed at the Mystic (Connecticut) Aquarium Animal Rescue Program and a satellite tag was applied before being released at Charlestown, Rhode Island, on January 17, 2019.

Once released, the satellite tag imagery revealed that the seal traveled 81 miles up the Connecticut River to the Holyoke Dam, the first impassable barrier. The seal then reversed its course exiting downriver into Fishers Island Sound, across Long Island Sound, to the Peconic Bays before going offshore. The seal then traveled down along the south shore of Long Island into the New York Bight and eventually into the Hudson River estuary where he found a home in the freshwater of Esopus Creek. Tom Lake]

Atlantic menhaden11/5 – Cornwall Landing, HRM 57: There is a tiny beach at Cornwall Landing that is somewhat sheltered from the strong winds that blow up through the northern gateway of the Hudson Highlands. It is a half-tide beach if you want to escape knee-deep sediments or having to haul your net out on racks or deadfalls.

Each unremarkable haul brought ashore bags of leaves and scores of banded killifish (70-72 mm). It was the leaves that eventually revealed another species in the net: larval young-of-year Atlantic menhaden (22-23 mm). These tiny fish would have otherwise slipped unnoticed thought the net’s mesh if not plastered on the wet leaves. Even then, if they did not wiggle, their translucence was invisible. The river was 58 degrees F, and the salinity was 2.0 ppt. (Photo of Atlantic menhaden courtesy of Tom Lake)
- Tom Lake, Phyllis Lake

[These larval Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) had a story to tell. Unlike most herrings, menhaden are salt water fall spawners. They had likely been spawned in the Lower Bay of New York Harbor in September, about 75 miles seaward. The literature suggests that they then migrated upriver into the lower salinity of the estuary, even to freshwater. While their presence seemed to be something new, their size and near transparency may have regularly escaped the eyes of netters. We give our thanks to Bob Schmidt for his help in identifying these tiny fishes. Tom Lake]

11/5 – Bedford, HRM 35: We spotted 26 migrating raptors at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch today, including a golden eagle; sharp-shinned hawk was high count with ten. Turkey vulture (51) was high count among non-raptor migrants.
- Tait Johansson, Karen Troche, Pedro Troche

11/5 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We spotted 17 migrating raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today; sharp-shinned hawk was high count with 17.
- Drew Panko, Brian Rubino, Steve Sachs

11/5 – Manhattan, New York City: You know it was a pretty quiet week for the Randall’s Island Park Alliance staff when we felt compelled to note black-capped chickadees along with pine siskin flitting about the groundsel bushes (Baccharis sp.) in the Little Hell Gate Salt Marsh. Several gadwalls were dabbling out in the East River. For reasons unknown, the Bronx Kill was unusually (surprisingly) salty today. We normally see salinity in the mid-teens; today it was 22-25 ppt.
- Jackie Wu, Christopher Girgenti

11/6 – Bedford, HRM 35: We spotted 43 migrating raptors today at the Bedford Audubon Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch, including a merlin; sharp-shinned hawk was high count with 15. Turkey vulture (67) and black vulture (8) led among non-raptor migrants that also included eastern bluebird (5), cedar waxwing (60), purple finch (24), pine siskin (33), and American goldfinch (56).
- Richard Aracil, Karen Troche, Pedro Troche

11/6 – Hook Mountain, HRM 31: We spotted only five migrating raptors at the Hook Mountain Hawkwatch today; Cooper’s hawk was high count with two. We had repeated closeups of a pair of non-migrating peregrine falcons that eventually flew off in a powered flight to the northeast, at which point we spotted a third falcon. All three were anatum/continental [intermediate in terms of color and size] with a heavy mustache mark.
- Drew Panko, Brian Rubino, Steve Sachs

Pine siskin courtesy of Bob Critelli

Fall 2020 Natural History Programs

Thursday, November 19, 2020 from 7:00PM - 8:00 PM
Conserving Habitats & Wildlife on the Rensselaer Plateau
Zoom -
This lecture will introduce priority habitats and wildlife of conservation concern on the Rensselaer Plateau, maps and resources for learning more, and basic conservation strategies. Learn about what we have, what’s most vulnerable, and what we can do about it.

Natural History Programs sponsored by the Livingston Free Library: Join us for thirty-minute presentations on Turtles, Climate Change, Invasive Species, and more followed by Q&A, presented by Naturalist Chelsea Moore of the NYSDEC Hudson River Estuary Program, offered every other Wednesday to the Livingston Library at 11:00 AM and to the Starr Library at 4:00 PM.

Hibernation and Migration in the Hudson Valley (turtles, monarchs, and Atlantic sturgeon) Wednesday, November 18, 2020 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM   

Snow and Ice (water chemistry and animal tracking)
Wednesday, December 4, 2020 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM 

Winter trees (photosynthesis)
Wednesday, December 16, 2020 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM

Registration for Starr, e-mail:
Registration for or

Follow Us On-Line:  

Check out our wonderful Tide Finder video (3 minutes) with Chris Bowser marking the extreme highs and lows of a full moon tidal cycle: Tide Finder video

Virtual River website: Virtual River Website

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 To subscribe to the Almanac (or to unsubscribe), use the links on DEC's Hudson River Almanac or DEC Delivers web pages.

Discover New York State

The Conservationist, the award-winning, advertisement-free magazine focusing on New York State's great outdoors and natural resources. The Conservationist features stunning photography, informative articles and around-the-state coverage. Visit The Conservationist webpage for more information.

Useful Links

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.

NY's Outdoors Are Open (

PLAY SMART * PLAY SAFE * PLAY LOCAL: Get Outside Safely, Responsibly, and Locally

New York State is encouraging residents to engage in responsible recreation during the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. NYSDEC and State Parks recommendations for getting outside safely incorporate guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NYS Department of Health for reducing the spread of infectious diseases.

DEC and State Parks are encouraging visitors to New York's great outdoors to use the hashtags #PlaySmartPlaySafePlayLocal, #RecreateResponsibly, and #RecreateLocal on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share their visit and encourage others to get outside safely, responsibly, and locally, too. Use the DECinfo Locator to find a DEC-managed resource near you and visit the State Parks website for information about parks and park closures.

Take the Pledge to PLAY SMART * PLAY SAFE * PLAY LOCAL: Enjoy the Outdoors Safely and Responsibly

1. I pledge to respect the rules and do my part to keep parks, beaches, trails, boat launches, and other public spaces safe for everyone.
2. I will stay local and close to home.
3. I will maintain a safe distance from others outside of my household.
4. I will wear a mask when I cannot maintain social distancing.
5. I accept that this summer, I may have to adjust how I enjoy the outdoors to help keep myself and others healthy and safe, even if it means changing my plans to visit a public space.
6. I will be respectful of others by letting them pass by me if needed on a trail and keeping my blanket ten feet apart from others on the beach.
7. I will move quickly through shared areas like parking lots, trailheads, and scenic areas to avoid crowding.
8. If I'm not feeling well, I will stay home.

Information about the Hudson River Estuary Program is available on DEC's website at