April 2-8, 2018 (Week 14 of 52): Spring’s Advance will Stall this Week

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Coltsfoot buds and flower just starting to emerge in Erie County.

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Pussy willow, shortly after bud burst.

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Fairy shrimp (with eggs) from Erie County vernal pool.

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Spring peeper calling from edge of forested wetland.

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Spotted salamander captured and released at Erie County vernal pool (photo by Kristen Rosenburg).

Based on the weather forecast for the Buffalo-Niagara Region, the spring-time advancement by plants and animals that started last week will continue briefly into this week. Red and silver maples as well as pussy willows and skunk cabbage will continue to flower. Early breeding species of frogs and salamanders will continue to migrate to and breed in vernal pools and other pond/wetland breeding sites. Early migrant bird species will continue to trickle into the region, and early breeding species will continue to sing, display, and initiate nesting. However, from Wednesday through Sunday, the region is forecast to return to temperatures that are well below normal. That will put many of our plants and animals into a period of suspended animation. Regardless, an abundance and diversity of life that can still be found by anyone eager to get outdoors.

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):

  • 6:50 AM/7:47 PM DST (12 Hours, 57 Minutes)
  • 3 Hours, 56 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
  • 57 minutes of daylight longer than at Vernal Equinox

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 50.3° F  Normal Low Temperature: 33.0° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru April 2, 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 (albeit less concentrated).
  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo was 33°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 38°F as of April 3.
  • Inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools are ice free and near annual high-water levels.
  • Streams will continue with moderate to high flow levels this week.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Sap is flowing in trees and shrubs, 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 continue to flower this week.
  • Pussy willows will continue to “flower” across most of the region, soon developing stamens that will produce pollen.

Woodland Wildflowers:

  • Skunk cabbage will continue to flower in forested wetlands, approaching its peak blooming period this week and next.
  • Coltsfoot, a non-native species that has naturalized across the region, is starting to bloom in some areas. Look for its yellow, dandelion-like flowers.

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 continue 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 emerge from streams and be active when air temperatures are about 40°F and warmer.
  • Wooly bear caterpillars that overwintered beneath leaf litter will continue to be active on warm days. After a brief feeding period, each will spin a cocoon of their orange and black hairs and develop into an Isabella tiger moth.

Fish:

  • Northern pike are concentrated in tributary streams, ditches, and shoreline wetlands for spawning.
  • White suckers will continue to migrate upstream within Great Lakes tributary streams to their spawning grounds.
  • Fresh steelhead will continue to enter tributaries for spawning when conditions are favorable. 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.
  • Large schools of alewife will continue to move from cold depths of Lakes Erie and Ontario to nearshore areas in preparation for spawning.
  • Large runs of brown bullhead may enter tributary streams and harbors.
  • The DEC will continue to stock some local streams with hatchery-raised brown, brook, and/or rainbow trout this week.

Amphibians & Reptiles:

  • Early breeding frogs such as the wood frog, western chorus frog, and spring peeper will continue to vocalize and breed in wetlands and vernal pools.
  • Spotted, blue-spotted, and Jefferson’s salamanders will continue to make their annual migration to vernal pool breeding sites when conditions are favorable this week.
  • Some eastern (red-spotted) newts may migrate to breeding ponds this week where they join newts that overwintered in the ponds.
  • Watch for painted turtles basking on logs, especially during cool but sunny periods.

Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:

  • Larger numbers of “puddle ducks” such as the northern pintail, American wigeon, mallard, American black, gadwall, northern shoveler, 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.
  • Some early breeding ducks such as mallard and wood duck may already be incubating eggs.
  • Large flocks of Canada geese, snow geese, and tundra swans will continue to stop-over in the region on their migration northward. The highest concentrations can typically 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 common loon, American bittern, black-crowned night-heron, pied-billed grebe, and horned grebe this week.
  • Bonaparte’s gulls will continue to enter 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 continue to perform their elaborate aerial displays designed to attract mates. Some hen woodcock are already incubating eggs.

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, 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. Red-shouldered hawks, a species that migrates south for the winter, may also have nests with eggs. Some great horned owl nests may have young chicks already.
  • 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 turkey toms, with colorful heads and fanned tails, will intensify their courtship displays 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 sparrowsback, scaup, common goldeneye, common merganser, long-tailed duck plus less common species such as the pine siskin and common redpoll 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, purple finch, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow, and chipping sparrow. Be sure to place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract these migrants.
  • Additional early migrant songbirds will continue to trickle into the region:   brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglet, 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, purple finch, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow, chipping sparrow, and American goldfinch.
  • Early breeding songbirds such as the horned lark, mourning dove, American crow, American robin, and European starling may already be incubating eggs. Others will continue to sing, establish territories, and court as they prepare to nest.

Mammals:

  • Male woodchucks will continue to emerge 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) will continue to molt from white to brown pelage.
  • Tiny newborn opossums will continue to 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 continue to actively feed and breed this week.
  • Gray squirrels, red squirrels, and southern flying squirrels will give birth to the first of two litters of young at about this time.
  • Muskrat love is in the air. Male muskrats will continue to 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.
  • Coyotes and red & gray fox give birth to pups at about this time.
  • 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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