What's Happening on the Hudson River in June
June is a favorite time for hiking in the Hudson River watershed. It is also a time of sensory extremes. June is the month that brings us the first real summer heat wave. In the Adirondacks, it also brings waves of black flies, or "no see ums," that blur your vision, bite exposed skin eagerly, and leave you swollen and itching the next day. On the positive side, Hudson Valley hikers will continue to enjoy the late-spring, early-summer fragrance of wildflowers, among them dame's rocket, multiflora rose, and mock orange. So dab on your repellents, drink plenty of water, and breath deep. June comes along only once a year.
The sights and sounds of June include songbirds and their newly hatched broods, Canada geese parading their goslings, and tiny ducklings in tight formation trailing mama across streams and creeks. The incessant bird song of spring will lessen as the songbirds try to keep up with the demands of hungry nestlings and seek to conceal their nest locations.
The bald eagle nestlings of May have become the eaglets of June. By month's end, most will have flown for the first time. It was only a few years ago - 1997 - that the first eagle born along the Hudson in 100 years appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Today, separate from the Hudson's wintering population of Canadian eagles, which can number close to 200 birds, our resident tidewater population has reached approximately 50 birds. Among these birds are breeding and non-breeding adults, juveniles, and newly-fledged young. As a result, bald eagles have become a rather common site in rural reaches of the Hudson Valley in spring and summer.
Black bears are usually in the Hudson Valley news headlines in late spring and early summer. These are primarily young males seeking new territory. Though they might decide to disassemble your backyard barbecue grill, remember that they are far more afraid of you than you are of them. Conveniently, the most common human response, screaming, works well to frighten them off. In addition to black bears, hikers in the Adirondacks may see the occasional moose. Give these unpredictable giants of the deer family wide berth.
Below the river's surface the spawning season continues in June. While a few shad and striped bass may linger on spawning grounds far up the Hudson, most of these fish and the smaller alewives are on their way back to the ocean. Blueback herring by the millions are still coursing through the lock at the Troy Dam, entering the Erie Canal at Waterford, and swimming up the Mohawk River. In years past a few have made it all the way to one of our inland "seas" - Lake Ontario. For most it is a one-way trip, but their progeny will stream out of the Mohawk by the tens of millions in late summer and fall, heading to sea to perpetuate the Hudson River blueback herring stock.
Over a century ago this was the time of year when prime "Albany beef" was harvested from the Hudson. That was the name under which sturgeon were sold in many markets. The biggest - females that might be ten feet long and weigh as much as four hundred pounds - are in the river to spawn now. Like other anadromous species, these sturgeon head upstream to spawn in fresh water anywhere between the Hudson Highlands and Albany. However, these are bottom-feeding fish that only occasionally make their presence known at the surface. By month's end, most females will have returned to the ocean, but males may linger in the brackish estuary until fall.
Much easier to spot are the explosions of water made by large carp in vegetated shallows, often in thick water chestnut beds. Each female is usually accompanied by several males, all fighting for position while she lays her eggs. The resulting splashes can be heard and seen at some distance.
In June the nests of sunfish - pumpkinseeds, bluegills, and red-breasted sunfish - can be seen in freshwater shallows. Male sunnies prepare a shallow depression of sand or gravel for the female to lay her eggs, often just offshore. The males then stand guard over the eggs, keeping the nest tidy and chasing off intruders. They are diligent fathers, staying at their posts for two weeks or more, until the young fish swim off to their fate. The black basses - largemouth and smallmouth - are big, bruising sunfish with the same nesting habits as their smaller kin. Black bass season opens as the adult fish leave their nests, marking the start of the summer sportfishing season.
Despite the continued availability of striped bass, black bass, northern pike, and walleye in the freshwater Hudson, the bulk of the estuary's sportfishing activity will shift downriver to the saltier waters of New York Harbor, where weakfish, striped bass, summer flounder provide world-class fishing. Lured by large schools of menhaden, also called "bunker," the first bluefish will also arrive. With all of this food in the river, osprey will put on a show dive-bombing from the air.
On June 21, the summer solstice arrives. This is a fine time to be out on a hike in the Hudson Highlands, the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, or the Catskills, walking a beach on Staten Island, standing waist deep in tributary while casting to a rising trout in a quiet pool, or just sitting riverside with a cold drink and a good book. Take advantage of these long days! Welcome in summer with a promise to learn something new about the Hudson, if only just to reaffirm that it is as delightful and exciting as you've always known it to be.