Posts Tagged 'Croton Point'

Winter Sounds

Sciurus carolinensisOver all, the wind in the trees, like an overtone. Cardinals chipping. Blue Jays screeching. Two trees, or perhaps trunks of the same, rubbing together. The tapping of a woodpecker. White-thoated Sparrows scratching in the leaves. The gnawing of a squirrel on a nut.

Little, Big

Passerculus sandwichensisA Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) looks somewhat like the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), but with a shorter tail. There is also usually a yellow cast to the lores. Passerculus sandwichensisA couple were atop the old landfill at Croton Point recently.

I went looking for Bald Eagles. There was a dearth of them for over an hour. Although three adult Red-Tailed Hawks at the train station kept me busy. Later I saw, in this order, a juvenile Red-tailed perching on one of the thing metal posts on the hill; a Norther Harrier floating low over the hill, and then:Haliaeetus leucocephalusThis adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has a late-afternoon fish snack in its claws. A little later, from the top of the hill, I counted seven soaring eagles.


cairnNo rocky place should be left unhonored. The Hudson shore at Croton Point. IMG_3283A weathered piece of old brick, from the kilns that fed the metropolis down-river, contrasts nicely with a downed tree, so like rock itself.

What a day!

Croton PointCroton Point Park: as the train pulled in, not a single Bald Eagle was visible in the trees fronting the bay. Uh-oh. I’d promised eagles to the folks I’d dragged up to celebrate my birthday. The absence of ice seemed to be telling; the birds were heading back upriver. When I was there at the beginning of the month, the river was largely iced-in. Now it was running free, with just a few sheets trapped in the north bay.

There was plenty of snow on the ground, and the paths were quite gooey with mud. The first big birds we saw were Red-tailed Hawks, a pair doing some aerial-bonding, with they claws outstretched; then suddenly there were five hawks up there. It wasn’t long before we saw our first eagle, at some distance, over the river. Things were looking up. Then two Black Vultures sailed overhead, birds I haven’t seen since last summer, their white primaries beautifully bright, and a Turkey Vulture, not seen since the fall — were these birds already starting to migrate northwards?

Then a mature Bald Eagle went right over us, low enough for us to see those enormous yellow talons with our unaided eyes. A little later, I spotted this huge shape in a pine.Haliaeetus leucocephalusPossibly the bird we’d just seen fly over us towards this direction. This bird was still there on our way back from the point. My party was, I think, pleased.Haliaeetus leucocephalusBut speaking of owls, the Flatbush Gardener, freelancing in the same park before teaming up with us, reported an Eastern Screech Owl at the opposite end of numerous telephoto lenses. Several hours later, we got to the location, to be told by the Ranger that the owl (and the photographers) had left. In the Nature Center, there were some “clay babies” to console us and, overhead, some compensation with a Red-tail and a Peregrine. I, meanwhile, enjoying Jean’s romesco dip on pita bread, was convinced the owl had only moved, not departed, not in the middle of the day, anyway. But it was someone else in our party, Virginia, who isn’t a hard-core birder, who spotted the bird. Megascops asioEastern Screech (Megascops asio), the color and pattern of bark (the species also comes in red and brown plumaged versions), basking in the late afternoon sun. We surmised it had been following the sun around the tree during the day.

Not so different from what we were doing.

Eagle Resurrection

Haliaeetus leucocephalusBald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) over Croton Point Park. Hugely perched in trees, wheeling in the air on their seven-feet wingspans, primary feathers sticking out like fingers, or powerfully, but not super-speedily, rowing through the air. I was reminded of the giant eagles in Tolkien, deus-ex-machina-ing over and over again to pull Hobbits and wizards out of the fire. Haliaeetus leucocephalusIn John Bull’s Birds of the New York Area, of 1964, Croton Point was “by far the best place in winter to observe Bald Eagles.” In 1951, 18 were seen there on a single day. But the numbers were plummeting. Shooting, hunting, and egg collecting, once a popular hobby, had taken their toll (for instance, Bull cites an 1844 report of 60-70 eagles shot on Long Island); removal of the large trees used as nests; and pesticides running up the food-chain to the top predator; all these were cited by Bull as reasons for the decline. (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962.) The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State (2008) notes that by 1974, the species was functionally extirpated in the state, with but one known pair, which was not successfully reproducing (DDT thinned eggshells so much birds were crushing their own young). Beginning in 1976, a reintroduction program brought the birds back; this hacking lasted until 1989. And it has had some success. According to the NYSDEC, there were 173 breeding pairs confirmed in 2010. Haliaeetus leucocephalusGood news is rare in the Anthropocene. Croton Point is once again the place to see them, right off the Metro North. Ice-bound rivers further north drive the birds southward along the Hudson (but sometimes you don’t have to go that far up-river: a friend in Riverdale photographed a dozen on the ice during the big freeze two weeks ago) searching for open water; Bald Eagles are piscivores, fish-eaters.

I was up there this past weekend, from before noon to sunset. I gave up counting at nine birds, plus one seen from the train at Ardsley-on-Hudson, since I couldn’t tell how many were duplicates, moving hither and yon on their powerful wings or soaring overhead during the day. One person I spoke to, though, counted thirteen individuals roosting by the RR bridge (where, several people told me, they watched half a dozen coyotes emerge from the phragmites when an eagle brought a fish to the nearby ice: what a sight to miss, pirates stalking a pirate!).Haliaeetus leucocephalusIt is the fully mature bird of four or more years that has the distinctive white head and tail with dark — black from a distance — body. Note how, in the first picture above, the bird perching on the left sticks out even from a good distance. Haliaeetus leucocephalusWay out on the ice, a juvenile looks dark all over. But, as in the third picture, it has some mottled lightness under the wings. Subadults will show some whitening of the head and tail. It was an all ages show while I was there. Haliaeetus leucocephalusThree separate birds flew from the Point as twilight came on, one northwards along the river, the other two bayside, towards their night roosts.

As the sun disappeared, I stood up on the hill — the capped mound of a former landfill now preserved as grassland — getting colder and colder, hoping for either an aural or visual sign of owls. I heard instead the barking, howling, and yipping of coyotes, sounding as if they were just on the underside of the hill. Whoa doggies! Indeed, two little dogs being walked by a father and daughter were stilled by the sound, too. It was a magnificent and hair-raising way to end the day. [Update: check out the comments, where Elizabeth reminds me that some of our “coyotes” are actually mixes between coyotes and wolves.]
vewLooking up the Hudson.

Tender Buttons

clay1These smooth, hard clay nodules are from Croton Point Park, formerly the location of a brick factory. They were sticking out of a large pile of less-clayey material, as if the surrounding had been eroded away by… river, rain, wind, all of the previous? The largest is the diameter of a quarter.clayThis is what the bottom of the nodules looks like, a little nubbin where they were attached to the larger mass — they came off with a twist — with a reddish stain suggestive of iron.

Any idea what these are called, if indeed they have a geological term?

Modeled on a volcanic piece — that’s redundant — of Iceland, the most textured rock in the house, to contrast with the ever-so-fine particles of clay.

Update: Thanks to Kevin (see comments) for the news: these are concretions. Vermont has a state park named after them, but I think these Croton Point examples are finer than the ones from that corner of Lake Champlain that I’ve seen pictures of, anyway. There are some wonderfully grotesque ones, too, known as “clay dogs.” The American Naturalist of September 1884 refers to “clay dogs, clay stones or clay concretions.” Wikipedia bemoans the loss of them at Croton Point after the place was turned into a park. But clearly not….

A further update: the Nature Center at Croton Point has an exhibit of “clay babies,” some of them aptly fetal.

Update: I got a postcard from my friend Sue:Cave6PearlsShe was with us at Croton and was reminded of these buttons when she saw these “toupie et perles des cavernes” at the the Cro-Magon-era cave Pech Merle. These are made of calcite polished by water.

Croton Point

Buteo jamaicensisThis Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was perched near the entrance of Croton Point Park as we entered and then, several hours later, as we left, albeit on the other side of the road. We recognized him by his chest plumage and streaks of russet on the neck.

This is a nice walk. We take Metro North to Croton-Harmon, a 45-minute trip out of Grand Central on the express train, and then walk over the bridge right into the park. We went looking for Bald eagles, and we saw several airborne, at least three individuals. (Hard to count sometimes when you see another juvenile and wonder if it was one of the duo you saw before). It’s getting late for winter birds like the eagles, which means migration is just around the corner; already here if you’re a woodcock, which are being seen now here in the city. There were rumors of Great Horned and Barred owls up there, but we didn’t see them this trip. Next time.

Field Trip: Croton Point

Croton Point Park is an hour north of the city by train ($18 roundtrip, off-peak). The park itself is just to the west of the Croton-Harmon train station – which inspired this line I donate to Country music gratis, “my heart’s as empty as a commuter parking lot on Sunday” — across a bridge spanning the train yard. In winter, I mean real winter, when ice is on the Hudson and snow on the ground, the park is an excellent place to see bald eagles. Piscivores, the eagles come south in search of open water. The water intake at the nearby Indian Point nuclear plant is also a big draw since it chops up fish.

You have not lived until you’ve seen a bald eagle perched majestically — the cliche is true — on a chunk of ice swept down the river. (It is not unheard of to witness this from the west side of Manhattan, by the way, in a hard winter.) But, because it’s been such a mild one, it was quiet on the bald eagle front compared to previous Februarys. One juvenile bird was seen, repeatedly going after some food in the water and harried by a trio of gulls as it did so. The Scavengers’ Ball. A mature eagle, with signature white head and tail, was also seen overhead, and then later — probably the same bird — perched on a snag in Croton Bay.

Croton Point was for many years a Westchester Co. garbage dump. The hill at its center is a grasslands covered pile of off-gassing landfill. Some English yew trees, planted in the mid 1800s (and purchased in Flushing), a couple of wine cellars (now closed off, but open when I first visited), and a shoreline littered with locally manufactured bricks, are some of the remnants of the place’s unexpected history. By a telling irony, the Point is also the site of Native American middens, piles of oyster shells and the like, that give evidence of thousands of years of human habitation.

While our walk started quietly, we ended up spotting these species in addition to the Bald Eagles: American Black Duck, Bufflehead Duck, Ring-Billed Gull, Greater Black-Backed Gull, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Rock Dove, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Crow, Fish Crow, Northern Mockingbird, Song Sparrow, House Finch, Starling. And was that the bark of an owl? Next time, we’ll stay later.

Picture by T. Paris

Busy all around. It was mild enough to picnic on the beach here, where we watched and heard a male Kingfisher plunge into the calm waters for small fry.


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