April 2-8, 2015 (Week 14 of 52): Warm & Wet Weather Will Get Things Hopping

Unfortunately, I was unable to post last week as I needed to revise the nature site table and had little additional time. My apologies.

20131004_211535_Cropped     Photo 064Spring peeper on patio door.                      Red maple flowers along edge of forested wetland.

YsSalamander1Male spotted salamander from Erie County vernal pool.

The brief period of warm and wet weather forecast for April 2-3 will be enough to trigger an evident response by plants and animals in the Buffalo-Niagara Region. Flower buds on many red and silver maple trees are already opening and the conditions will push those species toward peak flowering. Pussy willow buds will burst across much of the region, too. Skunk cabbage plants in unfrozen wetlands will start flowering.

If the weather forecast holds true, substantial rain overnight Thursday will be well timed to prompt nocturnal movements of frogs and mole salamanders (i.e., spotted, blue-spotted, and Jefferson salamanders) toward vernal pools and other pond/wetland breeding sites, except in areas still solidly covered with snow and/or frozen. Listen for breeding calls of spring peepers, western chorus frogs, and wood frogs both day and night, and watch for them crossing roads.

The warm temperatures and rainfall will accelerate the melting of ice that is still covering inland ponds and wetlands, providing more accessible stop-over habitat for migrant ducks, geese, and tundra swans passing through the region. Strong southerly winds associated with the warm-up will carry more northbound migrant birds into and through our region. Thursday will likely be an excellent day to watch migrant turkey vultures and hawks, especially in areas close to the shorelines of Lakes Erie and Ontario.

Get outdoors on Thursday or Friday if you can because the region is forecast to return to below average temperatures after that, which will put many of our plants and animals back into a period of suspended animation.

Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region during the coming week. Check out the list of nearly 300 publicly accessible sites (“B-N Region & Sites” tab on this web page) to find sites to explore in your neighborhood and throughout the Buffalo-Niagara Region.

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • While the west end of Lake Ontario is ice-free, the east end of Lake Erie will remain mostly ice-covered.
  • Open water areas will continue to expand within inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools, aided considerably by the warm rainy weather April 2-3.
  • Streams will remain ice-free and near bank-full.

Woodland Wildflowers:

  • Skunk cabbage will begin to flower, except in woodlands that remain snow-covered and/or frozen.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Sugar maple sap (as well as sap in other tree species) will continue to flow, especially during relatively warm days following nights with sub-freezing temperatures.
  • Flowering of red and silver maple trees will approach peak during the coming week.
  • Pussy willow flower buds will burst across most of the region.

Insects & Other Terrestrial Invertebrates:

  • A surprising diversity and abundance of vernal pool invertebrates will spring to life as the pools thaw: fingernail clams, amphipods, isopods, fairy shrimp, caddis fly larvae, dragonfly nymphs, giant water bugs, an assortment of aquatic beetles, etc.
  • Early spring species of caddis flies, stoneflies, and gnats will continue to be active when air temperatures are about 40°F and warmer.
  • A few mourning cloak butterflies (which overwinter as adults) will likely become active during the brief warm spell this coming week.

Fish:

  • Northern pike will continue to concentrate near tributary streams, ditches, and shoreline wetlands in preparation for spawning, which will start shortly after ice disappears (when the water temperature exceeds about 40°F).
  • Steelhead that migrated from Lakes Erie and Ontario into tributary streams last fall and through the winter are now joined by fresh steelhead entering the tributaries in preparation for spring spawning (when the water temperature approaches 50°F). Steelhead are an anadromous form of rainbow trout that spawn in streams but live most of their lives in Lakes Erie and Ontario. All forms of rainbow trout are native to Pacific coast watersheds.

Amphibians & Reptiles:

  • The brief period of warm and rainy weather forecast for April 2-3 will trigger movements and singing by spring peepers, western chorus frogs, and wood frogs, except in woodlands that remain snow-covered and/or frozen. Listen for them calling from wetlands and ponds (both day and night), and watch for them crossing roads.
  • Male spotted, blue-spotted, and Jefferson salamanders will start their annual migrations to vernal pools, in preparation for breeding, during the warm and rainy period forecast for April 2-3. However, woodlands that remain snow-covered and/or frozen will see little if any activity until they warm up.

Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:

    • Thousands of diving ducks will remain in their local wintering areas, primarily open water areas of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. The primary species include common merganser, red-breasted merganser, common goldeneye, bufflehead, canvasback, scaup, and long-tailed duck. Many will be performing courtship displays and vocalizations.
    • See the “Great Lakes/Niagara River” column in the “B-N Region & Sites” tab on this web page for sites that provide public access to these areas.
    • Red-throated loons, red-necked grebes, and horned grebes will continue to use open water areas as stop-over feeding areas along their migration route north.
    • “Puddle ducks” such as the northern pintail, American wigeon, mallard, American black, gadwall, redhead, ring-necked duck, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, ruddy duck, wood duck, and hooded merganser will continue to stop-over in the region as they migrate north, or return to local breeding areas such as Iroquois NWR.
    • Flocks of thousands of Canada geese, snow geese, and tundra swans will continue to stop-over in the region on their migration northward. The highest concentrations can be found in the vicinity of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and adjoining Tonawanda and Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Areas. See the “B-N Region & Sites” tab on this web page for location details.
    • Pairs of Canada geese will continue to return to previously used nesting sites.
    • Great blue herons will continue to gather on Motor Island in the Niagara River to nest, as well as at inland rookeries.
    • Additional water birds such as the black-crowned night-heron, pied-billed grebe, and American bittern may begin returning to the region.
    • Bonaparte’s gulls will continue to trickle into the region, using the Niagara River as a significant stop-over feeding area along their migration route north. This species will reach its peak spring numbers in the region in mid-April when thousands will be present along the Niagara River.
  • To stay abreast of bird sightings in the region, consult eBird, Genesee Birds, and Dial-a-Bird (see the “Resources” tab on this web page for more details).

Birds of Prey:

  • Spring flights of hawks, falcons, bald eagles, and turkey vultures will continue to follow the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shores as they migrate north. An excellent observation area for seeing dozens or hundreds (sometimes thousands) of these migrants in a single day is Lakeside Cemetery in Hamburg. See the “B-N Region & Sites” tab on this web page for location details.
  • Northbound long-eared owls and northern saw-whet owls will continue to arrive in the region, most notably near the southern shores of Lake Erie and (especially) Lake Ontario.
  • Most year-round resident birds of prey are already on-nest. Recent arrivals such as the Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and osprey will be establishing nesting territories.

Upland Game Birds:

  • Wild turkeys will continue to travel and feed in flocks in the short-term.
  • Male ring-necked pheasants that have become naturalized in the region will continue their rooster-like crowing to establish territories and attract mates.

Shorebirds & Songbirds:

  • Typical winter songbirds such as the dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrow plus less common species such as the pine siskin and common redpoll will continue to visit local bird feeders.
  • Early breeding songbirds such as the American crow and horned lark will continue to establish territories and initiate nesting.
  • Additional early migrant shorebirds and songbirds will continue to trickle into the region: killdeer, American woodcock, Wilson’s snipe, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, winter wren, northern flicker, American pipit, belted kingfisher, eastern meadowlark, eastern bluebird, American robin, horned lark, red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, song sparrow, chipping sparrow, and American goldfinch.
  • Male American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe will begin their elaborate aerial displays designed to attract mates.

Mammals:

  • While the brief warm-up forecast for April 2-3 may trigger some limited activity, most true hibernators (several species of bats, woodchuck, meadow jumping mouse, and woodland jumping mouse) will continue to be mostly inactive in the region during the coming week.
  • White-tailed deer will continue to travel mostly in herds. Finding food will continue to be difficult until the growing season begins.

Find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover new signs of spring.

Chuck Rosenburg

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