November 2013

11/1    The growing season may be over but the witch hazel is flowering – its beautiful yellow petals glow in the autumn sun. And mushrooms are popping up: shaggy mane, amanitas and inky caps. It was a delightful autumn morning until quite quickly a rip-roaring and violent storm arrived. More than a half-inch of rain fell (yay) and the winds gusted over 35 mph! Then the day ended backlit with the low sun casting an amber glow on the hills of Kent.

Two “shaggy mane” mushrooms poke up through short grass
Two shaggy mane mushrooms poke up through short grass – Photo: Beth Herr

11/2    American winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is in full berry, the brightest natural color in winter (except maybe mosses). It is a species of holly. Other names include black alder winterberry, brook alder, Canada holly, coralberry, deciduous holly, deciduous winterberry, false alder, fever bush, inkberry, Michigan holly, possumhaw, swamp holly, Virginian winterberry or winterberry holly. It occurs on acidic, wetland habitats. The berries are an important food resource for numerous species of birds.

Bright red winterberries on bare branches with lake in background
American winterberry, Ilex verticillata, offers the birds a treat in return for disbursing its seeds – Photo: Beth Herr

11/2    Bedford. Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch: Today’s red-shouldered hawk total – 221! The noon hour saw a staggering 108 red-shouldered hawks recorded! Most of them were high, in small kettles and streams. We also saw five golden eagles within five minutes of each other as well as two common loons. Current selected season totals of vultures: 1,867 turkey vultures, 38 black vultures.
— Tait Johansson, Gaelyn Ong, Jack Kozuchowski

11/3    A hike to the kettlehole bog at Clearpool with ten neighbors was brisk and rewarding: the low light of the winter sun, the newly exposed tree branches and forest contours, and the chilly winds made for happy hikers and rosy cheeks. At the bog, several species of sphagnum moss clustered on hummocks and edges, shield plant floated in the moat along with water lilies, while black gum and red maple trees stood guard on the edges. Hikers marveled at the 13,000 year-old story of this unusual plant community. The Kent CAC hopes to help with a baseline survey as part of the model forest inventory at Green Chimney’s Clearpool facility.

A group of hikers pause for a photo near the kettle hole bog at Clearpool
The CAC hikers pause for a photo near the kettlehole bog at Clearpool
– Photo: Beth Herr

11/4    Did you see the rainbow-colored sun dogs in the western sky about 4pm? A sun dog, or "parhelion" – from the Greek meaning "by or near the sun – is a bright spot of light in the sky on either or both sides of the sun. Sun dogs are caused by ice crystals in cirrus clouds refracting sunlight especially when the sun is low in the sky.

A first frost tonight with daylight saving time ending makes it really feel like November.

Excerpt from the Hudson River Almanac: Millbrook. It was reminiscent of the Hitchcock movie "The Birds": One moment the only sound was of black-and-white Holstein dairy cows feeding on alfalfa; the next, the trees all around were filled with hundreds of raucous blackbirds. The din was deafening. Most were starlings, but mixed in were red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds. It seemed ironic – being in the midst of cows – to have dozens of cowbirds in the trees overhead. A dozen large trees filled and emptied in less than 30 minutes, and the quiet resumed.  — Tom Lake, T.R. Jackson

11/7    It’s finally raining, real rain! This is a good thing; the meteorologist on TV said that our precipitation is 5 inches below normal. A visit to several vernal pools yesterday confirmed the lack of rain – they were completely dry. As vernal pools they are supposed to dry out. But that usually occurs in the summer, the species that inhabit them in the spring having left those pools by the heat of summer.

There is another vernal pool species of amphibian, an obligate, that needs the autumn rains that refill these depressions in the forest. Often hurricanes provide inches of rain in the fall, or there are rainy periods lasting several days. The water then refills these pools just in time for the arrival of the marbled salamander, Ambystoma opacum. This large, white-spotted salamander lays up to 120 eggs under logs or in clumps of vegetation in low areas that are likely to flood during autumn rains. They dig a small depression in soft soil and lay the eggs in it. Eggs hatch the same fall or winter if rains come, but they may overwinter and hatch the following spring. The embryos hatch soon after the nest is inundated with the rising waters of the seasonal pool. The marbled salamander larvae gain a size advantage by feeding and growing for several months before the spotted salamanders hatch later in the spring.

By the time this entry is done, the rain has stopped. Alas! What does the marbled salamander think?

11/9    Thousands of mallards, a deer walking in water up to his neck, a bobcat slinking across the meadow, savannah sparrows hiding in the bush, all settling in for the night in the great swamp. A Carolina wren called while bluebirds chortled their evening song.

11/10    The day started sunny and promised to warm to the 50s. But mid-day the sky darkened. First came sprinkles, then heavy rain followed. After four hours of on and off rain, the edge of the cold front divided the grey sky from bright blue. Then the wind began howling, prompting more waterfowl to gather for their flight south: A raft of 50 or so American coots floated on the south end of Lake Mahopac, the ruddy ducks increased at the Lake Carmel causeway, hundreds of mallards were seen in the great swamp valley, and three pairs of beautiful ring-necked ducks swam around Turtle Pond.

11/11    Oak leaves persist and are brilliant in the sun, beech leaves remain golden, the maple-leaved viburnum glows a beautiful pink, but most of the understory colors are the leaves of the invasives not native to our region. These include Japanese knotweed, Tatarian honeysuckle, and winged euonymus (or burning bush as it is commonly called). In the forest the color is the softest, most demure pink, a lovely beast indeed. The seeds balls of the sycamore hang like decorations explaining its common name: buttonwood.

Gold-colored beech trees in a fall forest
The fall beeches give the woods a golden glow – Photo: Beth Herr

11/12    The first snowfall arrives, light and magical, transforming our everyday view into a wonderland. The black oak leaves have fallen as if to signal the end of autumn and beginning of winter.

11/16    Another nice sunny day made for a lovely walk along White Pond. There was a raft of 200 or more ruddy ducks diving for fish and a pair of American coots, interspersed with a few pairs of hooded mergansers. The forest is muted browns except for the welcome green of the Christmas fern and mosses. One yellow jacket sat dazed on the rail, the frost not cold enough to kill it; crickets call still though less robust in the singing.

11/17    Full Beaver Moon – For native people and Putnam’s early settlers it was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. It’s sometimes called the Frost Moon, but we’ve only had a few frosty nights (so far).

11/18    The cold front that blew across the country spawning tornados in the mid-section brought us a mere gust or two and at least some rain. By mid-morning the sky was clear and blue. Imagine my surprise when, hugging the shore of Lake Gleneida on a late day walk, I looked up to see two mature bald eagles cavorting and careening. Their brilliant white heads and tails highlighted the white steeple of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church! Snow and ice have not driven this pair down from the north lands. These two must have nested nearby! What a treat.

(Editor’s correction: The Hudson River Almanac. 10/29 – North Germantown. Eagles are now a common site along the Hudson, and I often see several in a day. But today was special. This morning I saw an adult bald eagle not far offshore circling and descending. It splashed into the water and bobbed up looking a lot like a trimaran – the head and both wings were up out of the water. The eagle ducked his head once or twice and then flew ponderously away with a foot-long fish in its talons. Later, I saw a bald eagle in the same area flying low with what looked like a small eel hanging from its talons. At day’s end I was startled by an eagle perched in a nearby tree. He looked at me, hesitated, let out three loud calls, and then flew off. It could have been the same bird all three times.  — Kaare Christian)

11/19    It’s a blustery day with clouds moving swiftly across the sky; it should be another brilliant moonlit night even though our silver disk begins to wane.

11/20    Snowy owl alert from the Hudson River Almanac: Albany. A couple of days ago I spotted a snowy owl flying over the eastern end of the Patroon Island Bridge (Interstate Route 90). It was only about 50 feet above the bridge and landed on the power line tower just south of the bridge. I could not see if it had anything in its talons.  — Rick Werwaiss

Although this entry occurred last week, it is included because it was one of the first of what has become a plethora of snowy owl sightings in the Hudson Valley, southeast New York, and northern New Jersey. Modest snowy owl incursions are typically dead-of-winter events signaling difficult hunting in the Arctic for these birds. The number of sightings in the last two weeks seems to far exceed what is considered usual.  — Tom Lake.

11/21    It was frigid at dawn and skim ice formed on Dean Pond. The north end of Lake Carmel was completely iced in. Bedford, at the Chestnut Ridge Hawkwatch: red-shouldered hawks and turkey vultures continued to come through in good numbers. Most activity happened in the morning, before increasing cloud cover put a damper on things (only five birds were recorded in the afternoon). Also counted were two common ravens and 72 American robins. Current season totals of vultures: 2,269 turkey vultures, 66 black vultures. Current season total for red-shouldered hawks: 474.  — Arthur W. Green, Chet Friedman

11/23    I’ve been watching the squirrels and chipmunks prepare for winter. Both race back and forth with frantic energy – there are lots of them this fall! If one could track their dashing, it would be a webbed mass of paths. The squirrels are finding an abundance of acorns and other seeds to fill their cheeks. With their jowls bulging, they dash into the leaves and seem to disappear only to have leaves fly up from where the squirrel has decided to stash its bounty. I’ll be finding groves of oak sprouts next spring!  — Robin Fox

11/25    On the eve of giving thanks we were grateful for a shift in the weather after nature let loose with a wet blast. The rain gauge here at the house read 2 3/4” after all was said and done. The cellar leak also verified the downpour.  — Ralph Szur

11/26    As we drove across the causeway into Carmel on route 301 we spotted on our left a very large congregation of bufflehead ducks. There may have been as many as 50.  — George Baum

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