Western New Yorkers (myself included) are eager to break out of the March-like weather pattern we’ve been experiencing for several weeks. Sadly, the brief warming across the Buffalo-Niagara Region that started on April 12 was not sustained. In fact, conditions early this week are considerably colder than what we experienced last week, and much of the Region now has an inch or two of snow cover. As a result, this week’s list of nature highlights (below) is nearly identical to what I posted last week.
Regardless of the cold conditions, we can take heart in knowing there is no shortage of wildlife to view in the Buffalo-Niagara Region this week. The best viewing areas are Great Lakes/Niagara River shorelines, ponds, and large wetlands where water birds (some migrant and some resident) are congregated. Bird feeders can also be productive viewing areas as they attract both migrant and resident songbirds, especially during periods of snow cover. Hopefully the long-term forecast for warm temperatures late this week and early next week will materialize so plant growth and cold-blooded wildlife activities (e.g., frog calling and breeding) can soon return to seasonal norms.
Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region this fourth 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):
- 6:27 AM/8:03 PM DST (13 Hours, 36 Minutes)
- 4 Hours, 35 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
- 1 Hour, 36 minutes of daylight longer than at Vernal Equinox
- Normal High Temperature: 56.6° F Normal Low Temperature: 38.1° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru April 16, 2018: 14 (all were during February)
Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:
- The west end of Lake Ontario and the east end of Lake Erie are mostly ice-free.
- The Niagara River was chock full of ice following removal of the ice boom.
- The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo was 35°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 38°F as of April 16, 2018.
- 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.
- Skunk cabbage will continue to flower in forested wetlands.
- The earliest of the spring ephemeral wildflowers, sharp-lobed hepatica and bloodroot, may start to bloom in some areas late this week.
- Wild leek leaves may emerge in some upland forests late this week.
- Coltsfoot, a non-native species that has naturalized across the region, will continue to bloom this week. Look for its yellow, dandelion-like flowers.
- Lesser celandine, an invasive non-native species of buttercup, may begin to bloom in some areas late this week. It is most common in floodplain forest habitats.
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 approach peak flowering late this week.
- Pussy willows will continue to “flower” across most of the region, soon developing stamens that will produce pollen.
- Some quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, American elm, and eastern hophornbeam may start to flower late this week.
- Leaf buds on Tartarian and Morrow’s honeysuckles will open this week. Early leaf-out of this non-native invasive shrub species helps to give it a competitive advantage over native shrubs.
Insects & Other Invertebrates:
- 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.
- Watch for honeybees and native bumblebees visiting newly blooming flowers late this week.
- 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.
- Mourning cloak and eastern comma butterflies (which overwinter as adults) may become active during the relatively warm weather forecast late this week.
- Common green darners may start migrating back into our region from the south late this week, typically the earliest dragonflies to be seen here.
- 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.
- A few fresh steelhead may 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.
- Walleye and yellow perch will be moving into shallow waters to spawn.
- 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 bullheads will continue to 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, especially late this week.
- Northern leopard frogs and American toads may join the frog chorus late this week.
- Spotted, blue-spotted, and Jefferson’s salamanders will continue to breed in vernal pools.
- Eastern (red-spotted) newts will continue to migrate to breeding ponds this week where they join newts that overwintered in the ponds.
- Lungless salamanders (e.g., red-backed, northern slimy, northern dusky, mountain dusky, and two-lined salamanders) may become active this week. They can be found under rocks and logs during the day.
- Eastern garter snakes may emerge from hibernation/brumation. Watch for “snake balls” – breeding clusters consisting of multiple males attempting to mate with a single female.
- Watch for painted turtles basking on logs, especially during cool but sunny periods.
Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:
- Larger numbers of American coots and “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, American black duck, and wood duck may already be incubating eggs. Don’t be surprised to see wood ducks perched in trees, near nest cavities, this time of year.
- Pairs of Canada geese will continue to nest 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).
- Black-crowned night-herons will continue to nest at local rookeries, including a large one a small island just above the brink of the American Falls.
- Watch for additional migrant and summer resident water birds such as the common loon (fantastic numbers in some lakes and ponds early this week), double-crested cormorant, pied-billed grebe, horned grebe, American bittern, green heron, Virginia rail, sora, common moorhen, and belted kingfisher 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 late April when thousands may be present along the Niagara River.
- A few common terns may return this week to local nesting colonies on the Niagara River and Lake Erie.
- Watch for Caspian terns, the largest of the tern species to commonly occur in the region, along the Niagara River and Lakes Erie and Ontario late this week.
- Killdeer pairs are courting this week and some may be nesting.
- Male American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe will continue to perform their elaborate aerial displays designed to attract mates. Some hen woodcock and snipe are already incubating eggs.
- Other early migrant shorebirds may arrive in our area this week: greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, and spotted sandpiper.
- 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. Most will leave for northern breeding grounds over the next week or two.
- Spring flights of hawks, falcons, eagles, osprey, 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 most are already nesting.
- Raptor species that recently returned to the area, such as the osprey, red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and American kestrel will be establishing nesting territories.
Upland Game Birds:
- Wild turkey toms, with colorful heads and fanned tails, will intensify their courtship displays to hens.
- Listen for drumming displays by male ruffed grouse in the southern part of the Buffalo-Niagara region as well as the Alabama Swamps area.
- Male ring-necked pheasants that have become naturalized in the region will continue their rooster-like crowing to establish territories and attract mates. Some hens may be laying eggs at this time.
- Enjoy viewing dark-eyed juncos and American tree sparrowsback, scaup, common goldeneye, common merganser, long-tailed ducks at bird feeders as most will leave for northern breeding grounds over the next week or two.
- 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 many of these migrants.
- Additional early migrant songbirds will continue to arrive in the region: brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, barn swallow, rough-winged swallow, bank swallow, purple martin, winter wren, northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American pipit, hermit thrush, brown thrasher, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, rusty blackbird, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow, chipping sparrow, field sparrow, swamp sparrow, and savannah sparrow.
- Early breeding songbirds such as the mourning dove, blue jay, American crow, horned lark, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, American robin, eastern bluebird, European starling, song sparrow, northern cardinal, common grackle, house finch, and house sparrow may already be incubating eggs. Others will continue to sing, establish territories, and court as they prepare to nest.
- Male woodchucks will continue to emerge from hibernation and seek to mate with females as they emerge from their winter dens.
- An occasional big brown bat may emerge late this week from hibernacula in local attics etc. and be seen foraging for insects.
- 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.
- 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.
- Yearling beavers disperse from natal ponds to establish their own territories at this time. Now is an especially good time to find scent mounds marking beaver territories, typically along edges of beaver ponds.
- Eastern cottontails will give birth to the first of three litters of young at about this time.
- 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.