With significantly warming temperatures forecast for most of this week, spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that flower fleetingly before trees leaf-out) will be blooming abundantly. Also, with southerly winds forecast for most of this week (albeit mixed with showers and possibly thunderstorms at times), the first substantial wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) will reach the Buffalo-Niagara Region later this week. Many other spring advances will be visible with the Region’s plants and animals.
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):
- 6:06 AM/8:19 PM DST (14 Hours, 13 Minutes)
- 5 Hours, 12 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
- 2 Hour, 13 minutes of daylight longer than at Vernal Equinox
- Normal High Temperature: 62.3° F Normal Low Temperature: 43.0° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru April 29, 2018: 30.5
Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:
- The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo warmed slightly to 38°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) warmed slightly to 40°F as of April 23, 2018.
- Inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools will remain near annual high-water levels.
- Streams will continue with moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for high levels if the Region experiences thunderstorms with heavy downpours.
- Watch for early species of fungi such as scarlet cup, pheasant’s back, and morels.
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) and Christmas fern this week.
- Watch for field horsetails growing in wet areas, resembling small pine seedlings.
- 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.
- Skunk cabbage is nearly done flowering. Its large skunky-smelling leaves are now evident in forested wetlands.
- The large leaves of false hellebore are also evident in forested wetlands, but this species won’t flower until late May or June.
- Abundant yellow flowers of marsh marigold now dominate some forested and emergent wetlands.
- Sharp-lobed hepatica and bloodroot, the earliest of our spring ephemeral wildflowers will continue to bloom in suitable areas this week.
- Most other spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out then disappear from view, leaves and all) will reach peak flowering this week, including spring cress, purple cress, yellow trout lily, spring beauty, Carolina spring beauty, early meadow rue, cut-leaved toothwort, two-leaved toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, and squirrel corn. Rich upland forests, especially sites along the Niagara and Onondaga Escarpments, offer the greatest diversity and abundance of these species.
- Similar woodland spring wildflowers that flower now but retain their leaves most of the growing season will also reach peak flowering this week, including northern blue violet, Canada white violet, downy yellow violet, wild ginger, red trillium, large-flowered (white) trillium, and blue cohosh.
- The leaves of wild leek (AKA ramps) 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.
- Watch for the leaves of additional woodland wildflowers that will bloom soon: May apple, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Solomon’s seal (smooth and hairy), false Solomon’s seal, large-flowered bellwort, blue phlox, and Virginia waterleaf.
- 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:
- A patchwork of pastel yellow and green will brighten wetlands, stream edges, and ditches as pussy willow flowers have developed an abundance of pollen-laden stamens.
- Spicebush will reach its peak of flowering in some forested wetlands this week. Look for its small, delicate, and slightly spicy-smelling yellow blossoms.
- Serviceberry trees and shadbush shrubs will begin to bloom in forest understory and edge habitats.
- Quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, American elm, and eastern hophornbeam will continue to flower this week.
- Eastern cottonwood may begin to flower this week. Its cotton-like fluff and seeds will be fill the air in early June.
- Tartarian and Morrow’s honeysuckles will rapidly leaf-out 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.
- Blackflies will likely become active in some areas, creating an annoyance for outdoors people.
- Various species of caddis flies, stoneflies, midges, and mayflies (e.g., March brown, blue-winged olive, Hendrickson) will emerge from streams, providing a valuable food source for trout and other fish.
- 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.
- 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.
- First broods of butterflies that overwinter as pupae may emerge this week, in particular spring azure and cabbage white butterflies.
- Watch for American painted lady and red admiral butterflies that occasionally migrate on southerly winds into the Buffalo-Niagara Region at this time.
- Common green darners may start migrating back into our region from the south this week, typically the earliest dragonflies to be seen here.
- Muskellunge are concentrated in vegetated shallows for spawning.
- 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.
- Huge schools of rainbow smelt will migrate from Lake Ontario into the Lower Niagara River to spawn. They may also be found in the lower segments of other large tributary streams (both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie).
- Large schools of alewife will continue to move from cold depths of Lakes Erie and Ontario to nearshore areas in preparation for spawning.
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.
- 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 have emerged 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:
- Pairs of Canada geese are nesting 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, black-crowned night-herons, and a few great egrets are nesting in rookeries, both at inland and Great Lakes coastal sites.
- 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 pied-billed grebe, American bittern, least bittern, green heron, Virginia rail, sora, and common moorhen this week.
- 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. Hen woodcock and snipe are incubating eggs.
- Other early migrant shorebirds will continue to arrive in our area this week: greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, pectoral sandpiper, 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, 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.
- Most summer and year-round resident birds of prey in our region are actively nesting.
Upland Game Birds:
- Wild turkey toms can be heard gobbling as they try to attract mates. Spring turkey season runs from May 1 to 31 so don’t be fooled by artificial gobbles as hunters try to call in territorial toms. Some hens are already incubating eggs.
- 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 hens are already incubating eggs.
- Male ring-necked pheasants that have become naturalized in the region will continue their rooster-like crowing to establish territories and attract mates. Hens are incubating eggs at this time.
- Now that winter feeder birds such as dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrows have mostly left the region, watch for summer resident species such as chipping sparrow as well as spring migrant species such as purple finch, rose-breasted grosbeak, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and fox sparrow. Be sure to place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract many of these migrants.
- The first substantial wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) will finally reach the Buffalo-Niagara Region later this week, including chimney swift, ruby-throated hummingbird, least flycatcher, great-crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, yellow-throated vireo, warbling vireo, cliff swallow, wood thrush, rose-breasted grosbeak, and Baltimore oriole.
- Among the neotropical migrants will be the following colorful warbler species: Nashville, northern parula, yellow, black-throated blue, black-throated green, palm, cerulean, black-and-white, American redstart, ovenbird, northern waterthrush, Louisiana waterthrush, and hooded warblers.
- The following shorter-distance migrant songbirds will return to, pass through, and/or linger in the region: yellow-bellied sapsucker, purple martin, house wren, marsh wren, golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush, gray catbird, blue-headed vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, common yellowthroat, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, field sparrow, savannah sparrow, fox sparrow, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, Lincoln’s sparrow, rusty blackbird, purple finch, and pine siskin.
- Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles are due to return to our region over the next week or two, so have your feeders ready (May 1st is typically a good target date).
- Most year-round resident songbird species (e.g., mourning dove, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker) are incubating eggs or brooding nestlings.
- Most short-distance migrant songbirds that nest in our region (e.g., northern flicker, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, red-winged blackbird, song sparrow) are establishing territories and initiating nesting. One notable exception is the American goldfinch which postpones breeding to coincide with fruiting of Canada and bull thistle in early July.
- Big brown bats have emerged from hibernacula in local attics etc. and can now 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, starting over the next few weeks.
Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of spring.