January 2014

1/1     Happy New Year! The month sails in on brisk winds from the north.

1/1     I enjoyed a beautiful winter walk around White Pond with my dog Ringo today. We loved watching an otter frolicking in a small patch of open water down below the road. I noted lots of antler scratches among the trees in the woods.
— Sue McNerney

1/1     More Christmas Bird Count reports. The Hidden Valley Bird Count highlights were at Cornwall Hill Road between Brewster and Patterson. The adult male "gray ghost" northern harrier that was hunting over the fields at the Great Swamp WMA and the humongous flock of robins that just kept coming from the north and northwest as we watched from the railroad crossing. We estimated over 3000 robins came through in a half-hour period between 4 and 4:30pm. Many of them alighted for a while in the trees around the tracks and the Muddy Brook bridge, then flew up and around, landing back in the trees or moving off. Segments of the flock broke off and circled broadly over the capped landfill and floodplain, but the general flight direction was south or southwest. It was clear to us that they were moving through to take advantage of north winds connected with the front and the nor’easter coming on Thursday. They apparently respond to an air pressure change that precedes the front.

We climbed the capped landfill at 4:30 to check for raptors, but instead found a large flock of 700-800 starlings in several trees along the northeast edge. They took off in a very tight, compact ball of rapidly flying birds wheeling in formation, circling over the road and then landing in the treetops. Their flock formation/behavior was such a contrast with that of the robins which gave the appearance of a rag-tag militia with no discipline or order in comparison to the highly disciplined redcoat troop of starlings.

We also saw a group of 3 otters in the river below the Doansburg Road bridge, and a beaver in the water at Green Chimneys.  — Jim Utter

1/1     Ulster-Dutchess Counties. Yesterday was our third annual Ulster-Dutchess Christmas Bird Count. The Hudson River was free of ice, but tidal backwater areas like the Kingston Point Lagoon and North Tivoli Bay were frozen. Fifty-one participants tallied 15,748 individuals representing 78 species – both numbers were the lowest in the brief history of our count. However, new high counts were set for 15 species including 6 merlins, 32 yellow-bellied sapsuckers, 2,364 American robins, 529 cedar waxwings, 231 eastern bluebirds, 54 yellow-rumped warblers, and 14 rusty blackbirds. New additions to our list included canvasback, red-breasted merganser, peregrine falcon, fish crow, snow bunting, and three northern bobwhite whose origins were undetermined.
— Peter Schoenberger, Mark DeDea

1/1     Putnam County. The dark-eyed slate-colored junco / white-throated sparrow hybrid that appeared at my feeders on December 8 and stayed for the fifty-ninth Putnam Christmas Bird Count was still here today.  — Ralph Odell

[Both species are members of the same family of seed-eating birds (Emberizidae) with specialized bills for that task. Yet they are separate species and the rules of taxonomy dictate that they should not be able to produce fertile young, i.e., the hybrids will all be sterile.]  — Tom Lake.

1/1     And this fun one. Birders in Troy counted 69 species. Highlights included a redhead duck, four lesser scaup, a white-winged scoter, a red-breasted merganser, six rough-legged hawks, six Iceland gulls, six glaucous gulls, and five Lapland longspurs. A sandhill crane was spotted before the count day and we added a new species: a Lincoln’s sparrow.  — Larry Alden, Penny Alden, Will Raup, Alan Mapes

1/2     It’s still cold at 22° with a fine snow falling. Bird activity at the feeder is frenzied.

1/3     Only 1° this morning with biting winds blowing the 5 inches of snow that fell last night. Bird feeders are busy, but otherwise every being, including humans, is hunkered down.

1/4     I had a large red-headed woodpecker on a tree in my backyard a few days ago!  — Ines Peterson

1/4     Early this morning the air was so cold it appeared to be filled with glitter. I could not see snow falling and there wasn’t enough breeze to scatter snow. So was it frozen mist catching light? And then the tree tops sparkled with the first touch of sunlight – a magical scene.  — Robin Fox

1/5     It was only 3° this morning, and though the blue-pink sky quickly faded to gray as the clouds thickened by noon, the temperature rose above freezing. This made for a very pleasant ski around White Pond. Several fisher-people had drilled holes in the two-inch thick ice, erected their tip-ups and were waiting for the big bite.

Large ice crystals refrozen overnight from melt-water
The night had been so cold, that the melt water that refroze grew huge crystals – Photo: Beth Herr

1/4     I went cross-country skiing on White Pond taking advantage of the powdery 5 inches of new snow. I knew this was to be short-lived as rain was forecast for tomorrow. After I talked with the couple on long bladed speed skates who had shoveled an oval to practice their technique, I advanced on the people fishing. As I made my way around the ice, I surveyed the 20-30 ice-anglers as to their catch and the thickness of the ice. One young buck casually plunged his naked hand into his ice hole and reported a thickness of 4-5". This reassured me about the safety of travel around the pond on skis.

Two of the fishing groups told me they had caught nothing and it was a slow day. When I approached the third group and asked about the catch, one man told me they had four yellow perch. He proceeded to proudly show me four plump females that were tricked by the lure of the dangling minnow. Earlier he had caught a small pickerel but released it.

Several other inquiries turned up empty creels. It wasn’t until I spoke to Dave McPartland the "Walleye King" from Fishkill, that I uncovered a new species for the day’s tally. It was a 19-inch walleye that he had caught that morning using live minnows for bait. He pulled the fish out of his ice hole holding tank to display it for me.  — Ralph Szur

Picture of ice-fishing hole and rig
Automated fishing: When the fish bites, the flag goes up. – Photo: Ralph Szur

Picture of four fish lying on the snow
It works well if the fish are biting! – Photo: Ralph Szur

Picture of two ice-fishers preparing to see what tripped the flag
Let’s see why the flag popped up – Photo: Ralph Szur

Picture of ice-fisher retrieving a small fish
A fish! – Photo: Ralph Szur

Picture of Dave McPartland the
Dave McPartland the "Walleye King" caught this 19-incher – Photo: Ralph Szur

1/6     Heavy rain and a temperature of 54° was how the morning started, but by sundown a wild wind brought sleet, snow and freezing rain with the temperature at 29° and falling. The seesaw weather with wild swings continues.

1/6     I went out for a walk to observe the transition from the second January thaw of 45° to the cold -2°. While walking down Horsepound Road, I was surprised to see for the first time this winter 25 wild turkeys. Normally I see the turkeys parading down through the forest across my backyard to my next door neighbor’s bird feeder. However, this is the first time I’ve seen them all winter. I thought they had succumbed to the howling coyotes living in the ledges north of our home. I guess they are craftier than ol’ Wile E. Coyote.
— Ralph Szur

1/7     The polar vortex has arrived! The blast of wind is biting; the trees are popping and snapping. Lake Glenida is completely frozen over, and the water fowl have vanished from Kent. And yet I heard a robin singing outside the Kent Library today. I hope there are lots of berries for it to eat.

1/8     After two days of hard rain and warm temperatures, the temperature plunged as the polar vortex settled in. After two days of single-digit readings day and night, I ventured out onto the ice of Lake Carmel. I was treated to five inches of black ice that was very smooth. I had to pay attention to some of the pressure cracks but other than that it was a lovely winter experience. The only creature I saw was this unfortunate little sunfish entombed in the "hard water."  — Ralph Szur

Photo of a "sunny" trapped in five inches of ice
A "sunny" trapped in five inches of ice – Photo: Ralph Szur

1/11     Almost all the snow is gone with today’s day-long rain. Temperatures rose through the early morning hours so that by daylight it was already in the 40’s. Heavy fog cleared when the snow disappeared. By noon it was 56°, such a contrast from just a few days ago.

The temperature fluctuation doesn’t bother the woodchuck or the jumping mouse. They are Kent’s only true hibernators, maintaining internal temperatures at 38° and breathing once every six minutes.

1/15     It’s the Full Wolf Moon, when wolves howl at night from hunger that snow and cold bring. We don’t hear the wolves that the Wappinger people heard, but we do hear the coyotes! Let’s call it the Coyote Moon.

1/16     When I opened our blinds this morning, there was our sentinel crow sitting in “his place” on the top branch of a tall tree looking expectant. Over the years, that particular crow, and three others, count on us to provide breakfast on particularly cold days.
— Jean Ehnebuske

Photo of flying crow with snowy background
Black crow and white snow – Photo: Dave Ehnebuske

1/17     On this partly-sunny morning, I was surprised to see a red-tailed hawk sitting on the branch usually occupied by our sentinel crow. I watched him through binoculars for several minutes, and then he flew majestically away. The crows made themselves scarce, of course.  — Jean Ehnebuske

1/18     Soft, graceful snowflakes began to fall just after 9 am and continued to fall for several hours—a beautiful reminder that winter is not done with us yet. The resident crows have obviously gotten tired of the red-tailed hawk cramping their style, but the hawk’s too much for the three of them. So they paid a visit to the neighboring group for help. Mostly, these two groups keep to their respective territories. But we’ve seen them recruit each other for hawk patrols before. Eight or ten noisy, dive-bombing crows were more than the hawk wanted to put up with.  — Dave Ehnebuske

1/19     The recent snows presented some wonderful winter scenes: A downy woodpecker came for suet and a deer family gathered for lunch. A mating swan pair appeared at our lake for the first time in many years. We wish them much happiness and lots of children.  — George Baum

Picture of downy woodpecker on suet block
Downy woodpecker has a suet snack
– Photo: George Baum

White-tailed deer feeding
How nice of the humans to make this nice exotic salad bar for us
– Photo: George Baum

1/19     The day began with sunshine, but soon became gloomy and overcast. A few snow showers lightened the mood.

1/20     Returning home from a trip to Patterson near the junction of Route 292 and Mooney Hill Road, we spotted a handsome young fox trotting alongside a fence.
— Jean Ehnebuske

1/22     Not a creature is stirring, or at least not a visible creature. And there are no tracks in our yard. Since the outside temperature is -3° at 8 am, this is not terribly surprising.  — Jean Ehnebuske

1/23     Our neighbor reported that she was thrilled to see a bald eagle at the Fishkill Exit on Route 84.  — Dave Ehnebuske

Looking Ahead

On Saturday, February 15, at 1pm, join the Kent CAC for a Nature Lover’s Hike at Fred Dill Wildlife Sanctuary. For details click here.

In the coming weeks, watch for:

  • red-tailed hawk pairs soaring together in the sky as they begin their mating rituals;
  • the return of the red-winged blackbirds around February 15 – “concareeee!”;
  • red maple buds beginning to swell and redden;
  • willow trees turning yellow;
  • skunks emerging to mate and for signs of them around bird feeders;
  • starlings beginning their spring whistling and purple finches their spring song;
  • the beginning of maple sugar season;
  • snow fleas, looking like a sprinkling of pepper on white snow, at the base of trees on warm days;
  • places to cut forsythia, willow, or quince branches. Bring them inside and place in water to force the blooms and provide a glimpse of spring.

 

When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,
The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain;
  — Algernon Charles Swinburne, from "Atalanta in Calydon"

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