April 23-29, 2018 (Week 17 of 52): Warm Weather Will Kick-Start Wildflower Blooming and More

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Growth of sedges, bulrushes, and wetland grasses is far ahead of that in uplands.

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Watch for fiddleheads of cinnamon and other ferns this week.

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Blooming of sharp-lobed hepatica will peak this week.

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Blooming of bloodroot will peak this week.

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Watch for spring cress flowers later this week.

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Pussy willow will continue to “flower” this week.

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Eastern garter snakes are now active.  Watch for “snake balls”, breeding clusters of snakes.

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Watch for newly hatched painted turtles in areas near ponds and wetlands (photo by Kristen Rosenburg).

With warmer than average temperatures forecast for this week, spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out) will begin to flower abundantly later this week, and will likely reach peak bloom next week. Southerly winds will facilitate the ongoing passage of migrant birds, some of which will nest in the Buffalo-Niagara Region and others which will continue north to breeding grounds in Canada. Many other animal and plant activities will also be kick-started. 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.

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):

  • 6:16 AM/8:11 PM DST (13 Hours, 55 Minutes)
  • 4 Hours, 54 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
  • 1 Hour, 55 minutes of daylight longer than at Vernal Equinox

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 59.6° F  Normal Low Temperature: 40.6° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru April 22, 2018: 14 (all were during February)

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo warmed slightly to 36°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) warmed slightly to 39°F as of April 23, 2018.
  • Inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools are near annual high-water levels.
  • Streams will continue with moderate flow levels this week.

Fungi:

  • Watch for early fungi such as scarlet cup fungus in hardwood forests.

Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:

  • Fiddleheads (furled leaf fronds coiled like the scroll of a violin head) will emerge for a few species of wetland ferns (e.g., cinnamon, royal, and sensitive ferns) later this week.
  • Watch for field horsetail growing in wet areas, resembling a small pine seedling.
  • While we’ve seen just slight grass growth in our lawns, wool-grass (a type of bulrush), a variety of sedge species, and wetland grasses have grown several inches in wet meadows and the edges of marshes.

Woodland Wildflowers:

  • Skunk cabbage is nearly done flowering. Its large skunky-smelling leaves will become evident in forested wetlands over the next couple weeks.
  • The large leaves of false hellebore will also become evident in forested wetlands, but this species won’t flower until late May or June.
  • Sharp-lobed hepatica and bloodroot, the earliest of our spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out), will continue to bloom in suitable areas this week.
  • Watch for other early-flowering spring ephemerals such as spring cress, purple cress, and red trillium.
  • Most other spring ephemeral wildflowers will begin to bloom later this week and reach peak flowering next week, including yellow trout lily, spring beauty, Carolina spring beauty, northern blue violet, Canada white violet, downy yellow violet, wild ginger, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, will continue to bloom in some areas this week. It is most common in floodplain forest habitats.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • The flowering of red and silver maple trees is now slightly beyond peak, but still adding subtle color to our leafless woodlands.
  • Pussy willows will continue to “flower” across most of the region, soon developing stamens that will produce pollen.
  • Spicebush will start to flower in some forested wetlands later this week. Look for its small yellow blossoms. Blooming will approach peak over the next week.
  • A few serviceberry trees and shadbush shrubs will begin to bloom in forest understory and edge habitats. Blooming will approach peak over the next week.
  • Quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, American elm, and eastern hophornbeam will continue to flower this week.
  • Leaf buds on Tartarian and Morrow’s honeysuckles will produce small leaves 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:

  • Ticks are now active so wear protective clothing and/or repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
  • 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 pollinators such as bumblebees and hover flies visiting newly blooming flowers 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) will be active during the relatively warm weather forecast this week.
  • Common green darners may start migrating back into our region from the south this week, typically the earliest dragonflies to be seen here.

Fish:

  • Northern pike are concentrated in tributary streams, ditches, and shoreline wetlands for spawning.
  • Muskellunge will concentrate in vegetated shallows for spawning.
  • White suckers will continue to migrate upstream within Great Lakes tributary streams to their spawning grounds.
  • Steelhead can still be found in Great Lakes tributary spawning 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.
  • Walleye and yellow perch are 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:

  • The breeding choruses of spring peepers, western chorus frogs, northern leopard frogs, and American toads will continue this week.
  • Mole salamanders (spotted, blue-spotted, and Jefferson salamanders) have now migrated out of the vernal pools, where they bred, and have returned to their mostly subterranean lifestyles in nearby upland forest habitats. Look for egg masses left behind 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) will become active this week. They can be found under rocks and logs during the day.
  • Eastern garter snakes will 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.
  • 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:

  • 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.
  • Pairs of Canada geese are nesting (primarily incubating eggs) in a variety of habitats in or near wetlands and other waterbodies. 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.
  • Double-crested cormorants are returning in large numbers to the Niagara River and Great Lakes.
  • Watch for additional migrant and summer resident water birds such as the common loon, 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.
  • The numbers of common terns will continue to build along the Great Lakes and Niagara River this week. They will start nesting at their typical colony sites soon.
  • 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 this week.
  • Killdeer pairs are nesting and some mobile chicks may be present.
  • 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 will 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:

  • 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. Large flights of broad-winged hawks are likely to dominate the hawk flight this week and next, especially at Braddock Bay. An excellent local observation area for seeing hundreds (sometimes thousands) of migrant birds of prey 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.
  • Most summer and year-round resident birds of prey in our region are actively nesting.

Upland Game Birds:

  • Wild turkey toms can now be heard gobbling as they try to attract mates.
  • Listen for drumming displays by male ruffed grouse in the southern part of the Buffalo-Niagara region as well as the Alabama Swamps area. They display 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.
  • 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 are incubating eggs.

Songbirds:

  • 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 (short-distance migrants) songbirds will continue to arrive in the region: golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, blue-gray gnatcatcher, barn swallow, rough-winged swallow, bank swallow, purple martin, winter wren, house wren, northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American pipit, hermit thrush, brown thrasher, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow, chipping sparrow, field sparrow, swamp sparrow, and savannah sparrow.
  • Among the early migrant songbirds will be some warblers, including yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, palm warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, and northern waterthrush.
  • Early breeding songbirds (year-round residents and short-distance migrants) are establishing territories and initiating nesting: mourning dove, American crow, blue jay, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, brown creeper, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, eastern phoebe, horned lark, eastern bluebird, American robin, belted kingfisher, northern cardinal, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, European starling, song sparrow, house finch, and house sparrow.

Mammals:

  • An occasional big brown bat may emerge 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.
  • Gray squirrels, red squirrels, and southern flying squirrels are caring for recent litters in leaf nests and tree cavities. Eastern chipmunks are doing the same in underground burrows.
  • 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 continue to give birth to the first of three litters of young. Some young rabbits have already left their nests.
  • Coyotes and red & gray fox have young in their dens, some of which are old enough to occasionally wander out into view.
  • White-tailed deer will continue to travel in herds. They typically stay together until shortly before fawns are born.

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

Chuck Rosenburg

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