March 26-April 1, 2018 (Week 13 of 52): Warm & Wet Weather Will Get Things Hopping

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Red maple flowering along edge of forested wetland.

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Skunk cabbage flowering in forested wetland.

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Spring peeper hanging out on window.

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Spotted salamander briefly inspected at Erie County vernal pool (photo by Kristen Rosenburg).

The brief period of relatively wet and slightly warmer weather forecast for Tuesday through Thursday night this week will be sufficient 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, moderate rainfall during this period (Thursday night in particular) will 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, regardless of overnight temperatures in the low 40’s. Listen for breeding calls of spring peepers, western chorus frogs, and wood frogs both day and night, and watch for them crossing roads. Southerly winds that are forecast for a few days this week will carry more northbound migrant birds into and through our region. Bird song and courtship displays, including elaborate aerial displays by American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe, will continue to pick up in pace. Woodchucks will be the first of the true hibernator mammals to emerge from hibernation in large numbers this week. They and various other mammal species will be focused on mating.

 

Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region this second full week of spring. Those in bold/italics are new highlights to watch for this week. Check out the list of 300 publicly accessible sites (“B-N Region & Sites” tab on this web page) to find areas to explore in your neighborhood and throughout the Buffalo-Niagara Region.

Average Sunrise/Sunset (Day Length):

  • 7:02 AM/7:39 PM DST (12 Hours, 37 Minutes)
  • 3 Hours, 36 minutes hours of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
  • 37 minutes of daylight longer than at Vernal Equinox

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 47.2° F; Normal Low Temperature: 30.4° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru March 25, 2018: 14

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • While the west end of Lake Ontario is mostly ice-free, the east end of Lake Erie is still mostly ice-covered.
  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo was 32°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 37°F as of March 26.
  • Most inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools are ice free and near seasonal high water levels.
  • Streams will remain ice-free with moderate to high flow levels this week.

Woodland Wildflowers:

  • Skunk cabbage will begin to flower in some forested wetlands with peak blooming period over the next week or two.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Sugar maple sap will continue to flow (and be harvested within some sugar bushes).
  • Sap flow is occurring in other tree and shrub species, too, as visualized by brighter yellow branches of crack and other willows and redder branches of red osier and silky dogwoods.
  • Red and silver maple trees will begin to flower in full force this week.
  • Pussy willow flower buds will burst across most of the region.

Insects & Other Invertebrates:

  • Flooded lawns will force earthworms to the surface and onto roads, driveways, and sidewalks where they are easily gleaned by American robins.
  • A surprising diversity and abundance of vernal pool invertebrates will spring to life as pools warm: 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 midges will continue to be active when air temperatures are about 40°F and warmer.
  • Wooly bear caterpillars that overwintered beneath leaf litter are now active. After a brief feeding period, each will spin a cocoon of their orange and black hairs and develop into an Isabella tiger moth.
  • A few mourning cloak and eastern comma butterflies (which overwintered as adults) may become active during the relatively warm weather forecast for the first half of this week.

Fish:

  • Northern pike are concentrated in tributary streams, ditches, and shoreline wetlands for spawning, which will start when the water temperature exceeds about 40°F.
  • White suckers have started to migrate upstream within Great Lakes tributary streams to their spawning grounds.
  • Steelhead that migrated from Lakes Erie and Ontario into tributary streams (including Niagara River) last fall are joined by fresh steelhead starting to enter tributaries in preparation for spring spawning (when water temperature approaches 42°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.
  • The DEC will continue to stock local streams with hatchery-raised brown, brook, and rainbow trout in preparation for the opening of trout season on April 1.

Amphibians & Reptiles:

  • Early breeding frog species such as the wood frog, western chorus frog, and spring peeper will begin to vocalize from wetland breeding pools.
  • Some spotted, blue-spotted, and Jefferson’s salamanders will make their annual migration to vernal pool breeding sites this week.
  • Some common snapping and midland painted turtles have been active over the past week. Watch for painted turtles basking on logs, especially during cool but sunny periods.

Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:

  • Thousands of diving ducks will remain in their wintering areas, primarily open water areas of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. The primary species at this time include red-breasted merganser, common goldeneye, bufflehead, scaup, and long-tailed duck. Many will be performing courtship displays and vocalizations.
  • Watch for red-throated loons, red-necked grebes, and white-winged scoters in open water areas of the Great Lakes.
  • Larger numbers of “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 stop-over in the region as they migrate north, or return to local breeding areas such as Iroquois NWR.
  • Large flocks of Canada geese, snow geese, and tundra swans will stop-over in the region on their migration northward. The highest concentrations can be found at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and adjoining Tonawanda and Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Areas.
  • Pairs of Canada geese will continue to occupy and defend nesting sites in ponds and wetlands.
  • Great blue herons will continue to nest on Motor Island in the Niagara River, as well as inland nesting areas (rookeries).
  • Watch for additional migrant and summer resident water birds such as the black-crowned night-heron, pied-billed grebe, and horned grebe this week.
  • Bonaparte’s gulls will begin 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- to late April when thousands will be present along the Niagara River.
  • Male American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe will perform their elaborate aerial displays designed to attract mates. Woodcock perform mostly near dawn and dusk whereas snipe display mostly during daylight hours.
  • 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:

  • Some winter resident raptors (e.g., snowy owl, short-eared owl, rough-legged hawk, northern harrier) will continue to linger in the region, especially in areas with extensive open grassland habitat.
  • 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 hundreds (sometimes thousands) of these migrants in a single day is Lakeside Cemetery in Hamburg.
  • 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.
  • Year-round resident raptors such as the great horned owl, barred owl, eastern screech owl, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and red-tailed hawk are paired up and many are already on-nest. Some great horned owl nests may have young chicks already.

Upland Game Birds:

  • Wild turkeys will continue to travel and feed in flocks. Some toms may start displaying to hens.
  • Male ring-necked pheasants that have become naturalized in the region will continue their rooster-like crowing to establish territories and attract mates.

Songbirds:

  • Typical winter songbirds such as the dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrow plus less common species such as the pine siskin will continue to visit local bird feeders.
  • Bird feeders will continue to be active with year-round resident birds such as mourning dove, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, northern cardinal, house finch, and American goldfinch.
  • Watch for early migrant feeder birds such as red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, and song sparrow.
  • Early migrant songbirds (e.g., brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglet, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, northern flicker, eastern bluebird, American robin, eastern meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, and song sparrow) will continue to trickle into the region.
  • Early breeding songbirds such as the horned lark, mourning dove, American crow, and American robin may already be incubating eggs. Others will continue to sing, establish territories, and court including black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, blue jay, northern cardinal, and house finch.

Mammals:

  • Male woodchucks have emerged from hibernation and seek to mate with females as they emerge from their winter dens.
  • Other true hibernators (several species of bats, meadow jumping mouse, and woodland jumping mouse) will continue to be mostly inactive in the region during the coming week.
  • Ermine (AKA short-tailed weasel) are molting from white to brown pelage at this time.
  • Tiny newborn opossums suckle from the safety and warmth of their mother’s pouch. A single litter often consists of over a dozen young.
  • Most eastern chipmunks have emerged from winter torpor will be actively feeding and breeding this week.
  • Muskrat love is in the air. Male muskrats actively seek females and are therefore exposed to greater risks of predation and road kill.
  • Watch for elaborate courtship displays by eastern cottontail pairs, including “boxing matches” and high-jumping antics.
  • White-tailed deer will continue to travel in herds. Finding food will continue to be difficult until the growing season begins.

 

Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of spring.

Chuck Rosenburg

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