April 30-May 6, 2015 (Week 18 of 52): Neotropical Migrant Songbirds & Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers are Trending Now

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Red trillium, yellow trout lily, and fern fiddleheads.                 Spring beauty in full bloom.

With warming temperatures and southerly winds, the first substantial wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) is finally reaching the Buffalo-Niagara Region and spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out) are blooming abundantly. Many other animal and plant activities have also kicked into action. 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:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo warmed to 39°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) warmed to 42°F as of May 1.
  • Inland ponds and wetlands continue to exhibit close to annual high water levels. If there is no substantial rainfall over the next week, the levels will begin to drop measurably.
  • After nine days of essentially no precipitation (as of April 30), water levels in most Buffalo-Niagara streams will be low to moderate for at least the first half of the coming week.

Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:

  • Fiddleheads (furled leaf fronds coiled like the scroll of a violin head) can now be found for many species of ferns, including Christmas, ostrich, cinnamon, royal, sensitive, and spinulose wood ferns.
  • Soft rush and a variety of bulrush and sedge species are growing rapidly (some reaching a foot tall) in wet meadow and other wetland habitats – the most evident green growth in natural habitats at this time.
  • Broad-leaf and narrow-leaf cattails as well as burred and Phragmites (a non-native invasive species) are emerging in marsh habitats.

Wildflowers:

  • Most spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out) will reach peak flowering during the coming week, including yellow trout lily, spring cress, purple cress, spring beauty, Carolina spring beauty, northern blue violet, Canada white violet, downy yellow violet, wild ginger, red trillium, large-flowered (white) trillium, blue cohosh, early meadow rue, cut-leaved toothwort, two-leaved toothwort, foam flower, Dutchman’s breeches, and squirrel corn. Sites along the Niagara and Onondaga Escarpments offer the greatest diversity and abundance of these species.
  • Watch for the leaves of additional woodland wildflowers that will bloom soon: May apple, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Solomon’s seal (smooth and hairy), false Solomon’s seal, large-flowered bellwort, blue phlox, and Virginia waterleaf.
  • Lesser celandine, an invasive non-native species of buttercup, will continue to bloom abundantly this week.
  • The leaves of wild leek and yellow trout lily adorn the forest floor of many of our woodlands. The former smells like onion and the latter is mottled, resembling a brook trout. A very small percentage of yellow trout lilies bloom in any given year.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Spicebush will continue to flower (peaking in most places) in forested wetlands during the coming week – look for its small yellow blossoms.
  • Serviceberry trees and shadbush shrubs will begin to flower and will rapidly approach peak flowering this week.
  • Sugar maple trees will begin to flower this week, as evidenced by a burst of pastel green color in leafless sugar bushes and similar upland forests.
  • Eastern cottonwood will continue to flower during the coming week. Its cotton-like fluff and seeds will be fill the air in early June.
  • Tartarian honeysuckle, an invasive non-native shrub that has infested many woodland habitats in our region, is rapidly leafing-out. It typically leafs-out two weeks or more ahead of most of our native shrub species. One exception is choke cherry, which will pretty well keep pace with Tartarian honeysuckle.

Insects & Other Terrestrial Invertebrates:

  • Ticks are now active so wear protective clothing and repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
  • Blackflies became active last week and will continue to be an annoyance this week.
  • A surprising diversity and abundance of invertebrates will continue to flourish in vernal pool and wetland habitats: fingernail clams, amphipods, isopods, fairy shrimp, caddis fly larvae, dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs, giant water bugs, an assortment of aquatic beetles, water striders, etc.
  • Glow-worms (firefly larvae) can now be found on the surface of the ground after dark, occasionally flashing their bioluminescent abdomens.
  • Common green darners have migrated back into our region over the past couple weeks.
  • A variety of native pollinators (e.g., bumble bees, hover flies, butterflies) are now active.
  • Watch for mourning cloak, eastern comma, and question mark butterflies (all of which overwinter as adults) during warmer periods this week. Cabbage white and spring azure butterflies (species that emerge from pupae in early spring) will also be active this week.
  • Wooly-bear caterpillars (a species that overwinters as a caterpillar) can still be seen, often hidden in leaf litter. The caterpillars will pupate and emerge from their cocoons as Isabella tiger moths.

Fish:

  • Early spawning fish species are moving into spawning grounds. Large numbers of white suckers continue to enter Great Lakes tributary streams. Walleye and yellow perch are moving into shallow waters to spawn.
  • Steelhead can still be found in Great Lakes tributary streams. 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.
  • Huge schools of rainbow smelt are moving from Lake Ontario into the Lower Niagara River to spawn. They may also be found in the lower segments of other large tributary streams (both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie).

Amphibians & Reptiles:

  • The breeding choruses of spring peepers, western chorus frogs, northern leopard frogs, and American toads will continue this week. An occasional gray tree frog may also be heard.
  • Lungless salamanders (e.g., red-backed, northern slimy, northern dusky, mountain dusky, and two-lined salamanders) are again active on the forest floor. They can be found under rocks and logs during the day.
  • Eastern garter snakes have emerged from hibernation. Watch for “snake balls” – breeding clusters consisting of multiple males attempting to mate with a single female.
  • Common snapping and midland painted turtles have been active the past few weeks. Watch for painted turtles basking on logs, especially on cool but sunny mornings.
  • While most midland painted turtle eggs hatch in August and September, some overwinter and hatch at about this time. Watch for 1- to 1.5-inch long turtles in the general vicinity of ponds and wetlands.

Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:

  • Pairs of Canada geese are nesting in a variety of habitats in or near wetlands and other waterbodies. Some young goslings are now present with the adults. Other waterfowl nesting at this time include American black duck, mallard, wood duck, and hooded merganser.
  • Great blue herons are nesting in rookeries, both at inland and Great Lakes coastal sites. Great egrets and black-crowned night-herons have now returned to certain coastal rookery sites to nest.
  • Green herons are now returning to breeding ponds and wetlands.
  • American bitterns, pied-billed grebes, American coots, and common moorhen can be heard broadcasting their distinctive (and peculiar) songs from expansive marshes (e.g., Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and Tifft Nature Preserve).
  • Large numbers of common terns are now present along the Great Lakes and Niagara River. They will start nesting at their typical colony sites soon.
  • Caspian terns are currently using the Great Lakes and Niagara River as stop-over feeding areas along their migration route north. It is a distinctively large and heavy-bodied species.
  • Large numbers of migrant common loons are now present along the Great Lakes and Niagara River.
  • 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.

Birds of Prey:

  • Most birds of prey in our region are actively nesting.

Upland Game Birds and Rails:

  • Wild turkey toms can now be heard gobbling as they try to attract mates.
  • Male ruffed grouse are actively “drumming” from the tops of logs to attract mates. They beat their wings at an increasingly rapid rate, sounding like an engine trying to start. Some are already nesting.
  • American coots, common moorhens, sora, and Virginia rails are beginning to establish nesting territories in marsh habitats. Listen for their distinctive calls (songs).

Shorebirds & Songbirds:

    • Male American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe will continue their elaborate aerial displays designed to attract females. Woodcock perform primarily near dusk and dawn whereas Wilson’s snipe often display well into daylight hours. Many females are on-nest at this time.
    • Killdeer are actively nesting, typically in barren areas.
    • Early migrant shorebirds such as the greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, and spotted sandpipers will continue to stop-over across our region during northward migration. Some spotted sandpipers will breed here.
    • Early breeding songbirds (year-round residents and short-distance migrants) are continuing to establish territories and nest, including mourning dove, American crow, blue jay, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, eastern phoebe, horned lark, tree swallow, eastern bluebird, American robin, belted kingfisher, northern cardinal, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, chipping sparrow, and song sparrow.
    • The first substantial wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) is finally reaching the Buffalo-Niagara Region, including chimney swift, ruby-throated hummingbird, least flycatcher, great-crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, yellow-throated vireo, blue-headed vireo, warbling vireo, cliff swallow, wood thrush, gray catbird, rose-breasted grosbeak, Baltimore oriole, and Lincoln’s sparrow.
    • Among the neotropical migrants are the following colorful warbler species: blue-winged, Nashville, northern parula, yellow, chestnut-sided, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, palm, cerulean, black-and-white, American redstart, ovenbird, northern waterthrush, Louisiana waterthrush, and hooded warblers.
    • The following shorter-distance migrant songbirds will continue to return to, pass through, and/or linger in the region: yellow-bellied sapsucker, purple martin, house wren, marsh wren, golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, field sparrow, savannah sparrow, fox sparrow, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, rusty blackbird, purple finch, and pine siskin.
    • With ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles returning to our region, have your feeders filled.
    • For a complete list of migrant songbirds that can be observed in the Buffalo-Niagara Region, select “Birds” under the “Species Lists” tab on this web page.
  • 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).

Mammals:

  • Bat species that hibernate locally (e.g., little brown, eastern pipistrelle, and big brown bats) as well as long-distant migrant species that are now returning to our region (e.g., red, hoary, and silver-haired bats) may be seen foraging after dark once temperatures return to normal.
  • Coyote, red fox, and gray fox are now denning, as are raccoon and striped skunk.
  • Gray squirrels are caring for recent litters in leaf nests and tree cavities. Eastern chipmunks and woodchucks are doing the same in underground burrows.

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

Chuck Rosenburg

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