I am always amazed how rapidly our landscape changes from drab browns and grays to vibrant shades of green this time of year. Concurrently, and not by accident, our woods and fields come alive with a diversity and abundance of animal life. Insects and other invertebrates that rely on plants as food begin their life cycles in earnest. In turn, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians capitalize on the abundance of invertebrates to feed young. Migrant birds and bats consume large numbers of invertebrates to fuel their continued passage north. A vast and complicated food web is quickly established and maintained throughout the growing season.
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):
- 5:50 AM/8:34 PM DST (14 Hours, 44 Minutes)
- 5 Hours, 43 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
- 2 Hour, 44 minutes of daylight longer than at Vernal Equinox
- Normal High Temperature: 66.9° F Normal Low Temperature: 47.7° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru May 12, 2018: 198
Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:
- The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo warmed slightly to 45°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) cooled slightly to 44°F as of May 14, 2018.
- Water levels in interior wetlands and vernal pools will continue to drop noticeably in response to high evapotranspiration rates resulting from relatively high air temperatures and the rapid leafing-out of trees and shrubs.
- Streams will exhibit moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for locally higher levels if the area experiences thunderstorms with heavy downpours.
- Early species of fungi such as scarlet cup, pheasant’s back, and morels will continue to produce fruiting bodies.
Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:
- Fern fiddleheads (furled leaf fronds coiled like the scroll of a violin head) will continue to unfurl for most fern species.
- Watch for field horsetails growing in wet areas, resembling small pine seedlings, with fertile stems releasing an abundance of spores.
- A variety of upland sedge species (e.g., Pennsylvania sedge, plantain-leaved sedge) will continue to flower, well ahead of most grass species.
- New growth of broad- and narrow-leaf cattails in marshes is rapidly overtaking last year’s brown cattail stems.
- Some spring ephemeral and similar early woodland wildflowers will continue to flower this week, albeit beyond peak, including northern blue violet, Canada white violet, downy yellow violet, wild ginger, and large-flowered (white) trillium.
- The following woodland wildflowers will begin to bloom this week: Jack-in-the-pulpit, May-apple, Solomon’s seal (smooth and hairy), false Solomon’s seal, large-flowered bellwort, Virginia waterleaf, foam flower, herb Robert, and wild columbine.
- Virginia bluebells will likely reach peak flowering this week, primarily in rich floodplain forests.
- The rose-purple flowers of wild geranium can now be observed in woods and meadows.
- Cuckoo flower will continue to bloom in wet meadows and along the edges of swamps and marshes.
- Wild strawberry will continue to blossom this week. Make a mental note of their locations so you can plan to return in June to enjoy the fruits.
- 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.
- Another invasive species, garlic mustard, will continue to flower this week, primarily in upland forests.
- The abundant pale blue flowers of forget-me-not are evident in ditches, stream edges, and other wet places. The most common species, Myosotis scorpioides, is non-native.
- Yellow rocket (AKA winter cress) will begin to flower in fallow farm fields and road edges this week. Profuse flowering of this non-native mustard completely transforms some fields to yellow.
Trees and Shrubs:
- Leaves of most tree and shrub species will grow surprisingly fast this week. Leaf-out will be nearly completed by the end of this week for most species (excluding ashes, hickories, and walnuts).
- Red and white oak trees will continue to flower this week, the first step in producing acorns that will be an important component of our region’s mast crop in Fall 2018 and Fall 2019. Acorns of white oak species (e.g., white oak, swamp white oak, bur oak) mature in one year but it takes two years for acorns of red oak species (e.g., northern red oak, pin oak).
- Similarly, shagbark hickory and bitternut hickory will begin to flower this week, ultimately producing hickory nuts that will be an important component of our region’s mast crop this fall.
- Watch for the showy flowers of tulip poplar and cucumber magnolia. Use binoculars as necessary.
- Several native fruit-producing trees and shrubs will begin to flower late this week and early next week: black cherry, choke cherry, red elderberry, nannyberry, and hawthorn.
- Tartarian honeysuckle, an invasive non-native shrub that has infested many woodland habitats in our region, will begin to flower later this week. Its flowers have a strong sweet fragrance.
- Red and silver maple trees are rapidly producing a crop of “helicopter” samara fruits that will flutter to the ground over the next few weeks.
- Quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, and various willows will begin to release cotton-like fluff and seeds this week, although nothing close to the volume of cottonwood fluff that will fill the air in early June.
Insects & Other Invertebrates:
- Ticks are now active so wear protective clothing and/or repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
- Blackflies will continue to be active in some areas, creating an annoyance for outdoors people.
- Some mosquitoes may start to bite this week. They will be out in full force by the end of next week.
- Various species of caddis flies, stoneflies, midges, and mayflies (e.g., March brown, blue-winged olive, Hendrickson) will continue to emerge from streams, providing a valuable food source for trout and other fish, as well as birds and bats.
- Watch for honeybees and native pollinators such as bumblebees and hover flies visiting newly blooming flowers this week.
- Mourning cloak, eastern comma, and question mark butterflies (which overwinter as adults) will continue to be active this week.
- First broods of butterflies that overwinter as pupae will continue to emerge this week, likely including spring azure, eastern tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, black swallowtail, giant swallowtail, little wood satyr, pearl crescent, clouded sulphur, and cabbage white butterflies.
- Watch for American painted lady, painted lady, and red admiral butterflies that occasionally migrate on southerly winds into the Buffalo-Niagara Region at this time.
- Common green darners may continue to migrate back into our region from the south this week.
- Early emergence dragonfly species (e.g., eastern pondhawk, four-spotted skimmer) and damselfly species (e.g., eastern forktail, fragile forktail, familiar bluet) may be active this week.
- Muskellunge may still be concentrated in vegetated shallows for spawning.
- Walleye and yellow perch will continue to move into shallow water areas to spawn.
- Smallmouth bass will continue to migrate from Lakes Erie and Ontario into tributary streams, harbors, and bays in preparation for spawning.
- Huge schools of rainbow smelt may continue to 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).
- Rainbow darters and Iowa darters will be preparing to spawn in riffles and shallow areas of streams. Male darters are ornately colored at this time of year.
Amphibians & Reptiles:
- Breeding choruses of spring peepers, western chorus frogs, northern leopard frogs, and American toads will continue this week.
- Egg masses and tadpoles of the above listed species (as well as wood frog) can be found in breeding pools.
- The raucous calls of gray treefrogs (similar in quality to red-bellied woodpecker calls) will continue this week.
- Green frogs and bullfrogs will begin calling from ponds and semi/permanent wetlands this week.
- Watch for breeding clusters of northern water snakes around the edges of ponds and wetlands.
Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:
- Goslings and ducklings of the following waterfowl species can now be seen in or near wetlands and other waterbodies: Canada goose, mallard, American black duck, wood duck, and hooded merganser.
- Great blue herons, great egrets, and black-crowned night-herons are feeding nestlings at various inland and Great Lakes coastal rookery sites.
- Common terns are attempting to nest at their typical Great Lakes and Niagara River colony sites.
- Killdeer, spotted sandpipers, American woodcock, and Wilson’s snipe are incubating eggs and/or caring for “fledglings”. The young are precocial – leaving the nest shortly after hatching and well before being capable of flight.
- Migrant shorebirds will continue to arrive in our area this week, highlighted by semipalmated plover, solitary sandpiper, whimbrel, ruddy turnstone, semipalmated sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, and dunlin.
Birds of Prey:
- As the trailing edge of hawk migration passes through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, most year-round and summer resident birds of prey are incubating eggs or feeding nestlings.
- Most great horned owl chicks have fledged from their nests already (typically flightless for a week or more) and some barred and eastern screech owl chicks will fledge this week.
Upland Game Birds:
- Wild turkey toms can be heard gobbling as they try to attract mates. Many hens are 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.
- Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles have returned to our region. They respond well to “nectar” and fruit/jelly feeders and can therefore be attracted close to houses for easy viewing.
- The wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) that started two weeks ago will continue this week. Watch for species such as 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.
- The following neotropical migrant songbirds that typically mark the beginning of the end of spring migration will continue to arrive in the region this week: eastern wood-pewee, red-eyed vireo, veery, gray-cheeked thrush, Swainson’s thrush, indigo bunting, and scarlet tanager. Additional late migrant species to watch for this week include common nighthawk, black- and yellow-billed cuckoos, alder flycatcher, willow flycatcher, Acadian flycatcher, and Philadelphia vireo.
- Among these 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, Cape May, ovenbird, northern waterthrush, Louisiana waterthrush, and hooded warblers.
- The following neotropical migrant warblers that typically mark the beginning of the end of spring migration will continue to arrive in the region this week: blue-winged warbler, golden-winged, Tennessee, magnolia, Blackburnian, bay-breasted, blackpoll, mourning, Wilson’s, and Canada.
- Bobolinks will continue to return to grassland nesting sites in our region this week from as far away as Argentina. Listen for their distinctive bubbly song that resembles R2D2 from Star Wars.
- Most year-round resident songbird species (e.g., mourning dove, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker) have already fledged young.
- Most short-distance migrants (e.g., northern flicker, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, American robin, song sparrow) are well along with raising nestlings and may have already fledged young. One notable exception is the American goldfinch which postpones breeding to coincide with fruiting of Canada and bull thistle in early July.
- In contrast, most long-distance migrants (e.g., alder flycatcher, ruby-throated hummingbird, wood thrush, scarlet tanager) are just establishing territories, nest building, or incubating eggs.
- 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).
- The following tree bats, which migrate south for the winter, will continue to arrive back in our region this week: eastern red, silver-haired, and hoary bats.
- The last of the true hibernators will emerge this week, including little brown bat, eastern pipistrelle (tri-colored bat), meadow jumping mouse, and woodland jumping mouse.
- Watch for young gray squirrels, eastern chipmunks, and woodchucks out-and-about. They grow rapidly and will soon be close to adult sized.
- Beavers give birth to kits at about this time. Typical litter size is 2 to 5.
- Many young eastern cottontail rabbits have already left their nests. Two more litters to go.
- Many coyote, red fox, and gray fox pups are now venturing out of their dens, as are raccoon and striped skunk.
- White-tailed deer will continue to travel in herds. They typically stay together until shortly before fawns are born, starting over the next couple weeks.
- White-tailed deer are shedding their winter coats now, transitioning from gray-brown to red-brown pelage. Antler growth is now evident on bucks.
Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of spring.