Following an initial burst of vegetative growth, many Buffalo-Niagara plants are now devoting considerable energy toward reproduction. The species that flowered earlier this spring are producing seeds and fruit, sometimes in huge quantities (e.g., red and silver maple trees currently laden with a bumper crop of “helicopter” samaras). Many other species are just beginning to flower. A number of insect species have reached their adult form and are now intent on mating. Some species do not even stop to eat in their adult form. Most amphibians and reptiles have already bred. Frog and toad tadpoles, as well as mole salamander larvae can be found in ponds, pools, and wetlands (at least those that still hold water after several weeks of terribly dry weather). As bird migration rapidly trails off, local birds are actively breeding. Most year-round resident species (e.g., eastern screech owl, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker) have already fledged young. In contrast, many long-distance migrants (e.g., black-billed cuckoo, Acadian flycatcher, mourning warbler, scarlet tanager) are just beginning to establish territories, build nests, and/or incubate eggs. Most local mammals have already produced offspring and are currently caring for them, some still in dens while others have ventured out and about. 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 56°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) warmed to 54°F as of May 28.
- Many ponds are exhibiting low to moderate water levels and most inland wetlands continue to be void of surface water following unusually low precipitation levels for the latter half of April and most of May.
- The unusually low precipitation levels have resulted in low to moderate water levels in most Buffalo-Niagara streams.
Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:
- Some of our most striking fern species are now developing fertile fronds and/or producing spores, including cinnamon, interrupted, and royal ferns.
- Hay fever sufferers beware: some of the most common grasses in our region are starting to produce pollen, including Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, orchard grass, and sweet vernal grass.
- Most of our local sedge species are now flowering or have already gone to seed in wet meadows and other wetland habitats.
- The following woodland wildflowers are currently blooming: Jack-in-the-pulpit, Canada mayflower, false Solomon’s seal, white baneberry, red baneberry, foam flower, blue phlox, herb Robert, Virginia waterleaf, and wild columbine.
- Watch for blue flag iris, false hellebore, and golden ragwort now blooming in forested wetlands.
- Most non-native wildflowers that will soon dominate open field habitats are just beginning to flower. Among them are birds-foot trefoil, oxeye daisy, daisy fleabane, tall buttercup, yellow rocket, king devil, and Dame’s rocket. Don’t confuse Dame’s rocket with our native blue phlox, which is nearly done flowering in forest habitats. Dame’s rocket has just four petals versus five for phlox.
- Watch for the following native open field wildflowers flowering at this time: bluets, wild geranium, and Canada anemone.
- Yellow iris is an aggressive non-native species that is now flowering in wetland and stream habitats, both forested and open.
Trees and Shrubs:
- Eastern white pine and red pine will continue to release copious amounts of pollen this week.
- Red-osier dogwood will continue to flower (beyond peak in most places) in wooded wetlands during the coming week, with pagoda (alternate-leaf) and silky dogwoods close behind (near peak this week).
- Nannyberry and maple-leaf viburnum will rapidly approach peak flowering this week.
- Tartarian honeysuckle, an invasive non-native shrub that has infested many woodland habitats in our region, continues to flower. Its flowers are fragrant.
- Black locust, a non-native species that is naturalized throughout the region, is blooming with very showy and sweet-smelling flowers.
- The cotton-like fluff and seeds of eastern cottonwood will likely begin to fill the air later this week.
Insects & Other Terrestrial Invertebrates:
- Ticks are currently active so wear protective clothing and repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
- Blackflies and mosquitoes will continue this week to search for blood meals to nourish eggs. Blackfly activity should taper off over the next week or two but mosquitoes will likely continue to be an annoyance in some areas for several weeks or more.
- No-see-ums, tiny biting midges, will be biting in some areas.
- Aquatic insect larvae such as mayflies, stoneflies, caddis flies, and fish flies will continue to emerge from streams and some wetlands/ponds to enter a brief adult breeding phase.
- Adult male fireflies are just beginning their aerial courtship displays designed to attract females, occasionally flashing their bioluminescent abdomens. Firefly activity typically peaks in late June. The best displays are usually seen over open meadows and streams, but they can be observed in woodland habitats too.
- Spittlebugs are now active – look for their foamy “spittle” on plant stems.
- Some of the relatively common butterflies active this week include tiger swallowtail, black swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, viceroy, red admiral, spring azure, and cabbage white. Most are searching for mates (and nectar).
- Adult giant silk moths (e.g., luna, promethea, and cecropia moths) and a variety of large sphinx moths are emerging and ready to mate.
- The following fish species are moving into or have already entered spawning habitats (relatively shallow and still water): brown bullhead, channel catfish, rock bass, pumpkinseed & bluegill sunfish, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and lake sturgeon.
Amphibians & Reptiles:
- Breeding choruses of gray tree frogs will continue from some wetlands and ponds this week.
- Frog and toad tadpoles, as well as mole salamander larvae, can be found in ponds, pools, and wetlands (at least those that still hold water after several weeks of terribly dry weather).
- Red efts (juvenile terrestrial phase of the eastern/red-spotted newt) may be found roaming the forest floor, especially following rain.
- Watch for common snapping and midland painted turtles crossing roads in the general vicinity of ponds and wetlands. Females are venturing into uplands to lay eggs.
Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:
- Expansive marshes such as those found at Tifft Nature Preserve and Alabama Swamps (i.e., Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and the adjoining Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas) are alive with bird life at this time. Listen and watch for American bittern, least bittern, pied-billed grebe, American coot, common moorhen, sora, and Virginia rail broadcasting their distinctive (and often peculiar) songs.
- Goslings and ducklings of the following waterfowl species can now be seen in or near wetlands and other waterbodies: Canada goose, mallard, American black duck, wood duck, and hooded merganser.
- Great blue herons are feeding nestlings at various inland and Great Lakes coastal rookery sites. Great egrets and black-crowned night-herons are doing the same at certain coastal rookery sites. Green herons are now incubating eggs or brooding small nestlings at individual nest sites near ponds and wetlands.
- Large numbers of common terns are attempting to nest at their typical Great Lakes and Niagara River colony sites.
- 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:
- As the trailing edge of hawk migration (consisting primarily broad-winged hawks) passes through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, most year-round and summer resident birds of prey are incubating eggs or feeding nestlings.
- Great horned owls, some of which laid eggs as early as February, are now caring for fledglings.
Upland Game Birds:
- Most wild turkey and ruffed grouse hens are now incubating eggs or brooding small chicks.
Shorebirds & Songbirds:
- Late migrant shorebird species such as whimbrel, ruddy turnstone, red knot, semi-palmated sandpiper, least sandpiper, white-rumped sandpiper, and dunlin will continue to stop-over across our region this week during their northward migration. This marks the end of the spring migration season.
- Killdeer and spotted sandpipers are incubating eggs and/or caring for “fledglings”. The young are precocial – leaving the nest shortly after hatching and well before being capable of flight. Watch your step!
- The trailing edge of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) is passing through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, including black- and yellow-billed cuckoos, common nighthawk, Acadian flycatcher, olive-sided flycatcher, gray-cheeked and Swainson’s thrushes, Philadelphia vireo, blackpoll warbler, and Connecticut warbler.
- This is the peak of the songbird nesting season. Watch for nests as well as bird behaviors that suggest birds are nesting nearby (e.g., nest defense or distraction displays such as a killdeer’s broken-wing spectacle). Get up early to witness dawn chorus, the cacophony of bird song that may peak even before the sun rises.
- Most year-round resident songbird species (e.g., mourning dove, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker) have already fledged young. Some may be incubating second clutches, especially where the first clutch failed.
- Most short-distance migrants (e.g., northern flicker, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, song sparrow) are well along with raising nestlings and may have already fledged young. One notable exception is the American goldfinch which postpones breeding to coincide with fruiting of Canada thistle in early July.
- In contrast, most long-distance migrants (e.g., black-billed cuckoo, Acadian flycatcher, ruby-throated hummingbird, wood thrush, mourning warbler, scarlet tanager) are just establishing territories, nest building, or incubating eggs.
- For a complete list of migrant and nesting species of 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).
- Year-round resident bat species (e.g., little brown, eastern pipistrelle, and big brown bats) and summer resident species (e.g., red, hoary, and silver-haired bats) are raising young.
- Many coyote, red fox, and gray fox pups are now venturing out of their dens, as are raccoon and striped skunk.
- Watch for young gray squirrels, eastern chipmunks, and woodchucks out-and-about. They grow rapidly and will soon be similar in size to their parents.
Find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of the season. Chuck Rosenburg