The wintering mergansers have departed for northern climes while cormorants have arrived to fill the diving bird niche. The resident pair of eagles alternate between their nest on the other side of the river and their favorite fishing perch on this side. Striped bass are starting to show up. Red-winged blackbirds have returned to the reeds and cattails. At dusk, spring peepers are calling in wetlands.
Earlier in the week, local bird-expert Frank Murphy delivered a purple martin nesting box, a gift for the Lighthouse (Thanks, Frank!). As we stood on the dock trading nature observation, dozens of chickadees swarmed the maple tree, swooping down in turns to the suet feeder. Frank reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of sunflower seeds, and held them up in his open palm toward the feeder. Within seconds, he had a chickadee grabbing seeds out of his hand. He gave me some seeds to try my hand at feeding the birds, but I must not have Frank’s talent for it. My outstretched arm grew tired without drawing any interest from the chickadees.
Several years ago, Frank first called my attention to the annual chickadee migration. Late April, flocks of chickadees funnel along the Lighthouse Trail and assemble in the trees next to the Lighthouse before taking off for the big journey across the wide Hudson. They are likely only migrating regionally to the northeast, and the Lighthouse is an attractive launch point for crossing the river. Plus, they can grab a quick bite to eat before continuing on their way.
On Tuesday, we crossed the river to visit the Ecology Field Station on Tivoli Bays. At the field station, we bumped into Susan Fox Rogers and Tom O’Dowd checking the eel net at the mouth of the Saw Kill for the Hudson River American Eel Research project. Every spring, juvenile eels arrive in huge numbers from the mid-Atlantic, moving upstream to take up residence in the river and its tributaries. The count at the Saw Kill for the day was a couple of dozen glass eels and one elver. The eels at this stage are so small and translucent that they are easy to miss.
Erik Kiviat of Hudsonia gave us a tour of the field station. He’s a wealth of information about the estuary. Erik gave us some tips on noticing such rarities as northern leopard frog, clam shrimp, and golden club. With so much springtime activity, it’s helpful to haves some guidance for what to look for.