September 17-23, 2018 (Week 38 of 52): Summer’s Slow Transition to Autumn

The first day of autumn this year falls on September 22, when day and night will be nearly the same length (AKA autumnal equinox). It is noteworthy that daylength will be about 3 hours and 21 minutes shorter than at summer solstice (June 21). That disparity will continue to grow as we progress through autumn. Leaf color changes have been later than average this year as temperatures have been several degrees above normal so far this September. With that said, fall color is evident on gray, silky, and red osier dogwood shrubs at this time. Also, splashes of color are visible on a few red maple trees, staghorn sumac shrubs, and Virginia creeper vines. Goldenrods and asters are close to peak flowering, further brightening the landscape. Dog-day cicada “song” has tapered off conspicuously over the past couple weeks. Yet katydids and crickets continue to “sing” much of the night, albeit at a slower pace during cool nights. Raptor, waterbird, songbird, bat, butterfly, and dragonfly migration are well underway. Many of our summer resident bird species have already left for southern latitudes. Many year-round resident mammals continue to prepare for winter, storing mast and/or building up fat reserves, while white-tailed deer bucks begin to prepare for the fall rut by rubbing velvet off their fully formed antlers.

Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region 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):

  • 7:01 AM/7:15 PM EDT (12 Hours, 14 Minutes)
  • 3 Hours, 7 minutes of daylight shorter than at Summer Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 69.5° F  Normal Low Temperature: 51.9° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru September 21, 2018: 2,908

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo was 72°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 58°F as of September 21, 2018.
  • Most interior wetlands and vernal pools remain void of water in response to continued high evapotranspiration rates. This is typical for our region.
  • Similarly, the water level in most ponds is low.
  • Streams will continue to exhibit low to moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for locally higher levels if areas experience thunderstorms or other significant rain events.

Fungi:

  • Extensive eruptions of mushrooms and other fungi will continue this week. Rich woodlands now support an abundance of fungi in an amazing variety of shapes and colors.
  • The following species of fungi may be observed this week: giant puffball, pear puffball, chicken of-the-woods, hen of-the-woods, oyster, fly agaric, jack-o-lantern, blewit, birch polypore, white-egg bird’s nest, turkey-tail, hemlock varnish shelf, bear’s head tooth fungus, and multiple species (and colors) of coral fungi and bolete and chanterelle mushrooms.

Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:

  • Sensitive fern and ostrich fern leaves in the understory of forested wetlands and floodplains will begin to turn yellow, an often overlooked fall color change.
  • Common reed (Phragmites) will continue to flower this week. This tall (typically >6 feet) grass is an aggressive invasive species most commonly found in wet areas that have recently been disturbed. Phragmites pollen may contribute to allergy symptoms in areas with dense stands of this grass.
  • Wood reed-grass will continue to bloom in forest understories.
  • Yellow foxtail grass is ripe with large seeds that provide a valuable food source for upland game birds, songbirds, mice, and other wildlife.
  • Wool-grass, a native species of bulrush, is now evident in wet meadows and marsh edges as a result of its abundant rusty brown and wooly fruits.
  • Broad-leaf and narrow-leaf cattail stems are rapidly turning brown and are laden with fruit in marshes, pond edges, ditches, and other wet habitats. Some fruits are just starting to disintegrate, which will release thousands of tiny fluffy seeds to the wind.

Wildflowers:

  • The fall resurgence of woodland wildflower blooming continues to advance this week with the following species in bloom: white wood aster, lance-leaved aster, sharp-leaved aster, heart-leaved aster, large-leaved aster, rough-stemmed goldenrod, zigzag goldenrod, and blue-stemmed goldenrod.
  • The following woodland wildflowers will continue to bloom this week: herb Robert and white snakeroot.
  • Watch for brilliantly colored but acrid fruits of Jack-in-the-pulpit in rich woodlands.
  • Bittersweet nightshade will continue to flower, and red fruits will also be evident.
  • Spotted jewelweed will continue to bloom within and along the edges of swamps, and yellow flowers of pale jewelweed can be found in well-drained areas at this time.
  • Watch for closed gentian (bottle gentian) and fringed gentian blooming in wetland habitats, along with great blue lobelia, and white turtlehead.
  • Many non-native summer wildflowers continue to bloom in open field and roadside environments, albeit in fading numbers. Among them are chicory, Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot), birds-foot trefoil, red clover, yellow goatsbeard, black-eyed Susan, butter-and-eggs, and multiple species (and hybrids) of knapweeds.
  • Pollen production by common ragweed has tapered off substantially over the past two weeks. Regardless, wind-dispersed pollen from this native pioneer species remains the lead allergen in the Buffalo area. A related but non-native species, mugwort, is also blooming at this time and contributing to allergy symptoms.
  • Our native open field/woodland edge goldenrods and asters will continue to flower in abundance, including Canada goldenrod, tall goldenrod, giant goldenrod, lance-leaved goldenrod, panicled aster, heath aster, calico aster, crooked-stem aster, purple-stemmed aster, and New England aster. Note that goldenrod pollen is not a common allergen as it is dispersed by insects, not wind. Ragweed is the typical culprit for hay-fever symptoms this time of year.
  • Bur marigolds and beggar ticks (genus Bidens) continue to bloom in wet meadows, marshes, and swamp edges. The most vibrant species, tickseed sunflower, transforms large areas to yellow at this time.
  • Jerusalem artichoke, a non-native wild sunflower will continue to bloom this week.
  • Pokeweed, a native herbaceous plant found in disturbed sites, is currently producing large volumes of fleshy purple fruits relished by birds and small mammals.
  • Japanese knotweed, an invasive species that thrives in riparian habitats, will continue to flower this week.
  • This is bur season so be watchful where you (and your dog(s)) walk. Several local plants have adapted a hitch-a-ride strategy that capitalizes on animal disbursal. Those currently in fruit include common burdock, enchanter’s nightshade, tick trefoil, and multiple species of avens and agrimony.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Fall leaf color is now visible, especially with the Region’s three species of dogwood shrubs: gray, silky, and red-osier. Also watch for splashes of color on red maple, staghorn sumac, choke cherry, and Virginia creeper.
  • An abundance of hard mast (acorns, hickory nuts, etc.) continues to be available, on and off trees, for consumption by many mammals and some birds (e.g., wild turkey, blue jay). Sources include northern red oak, pin oak, bur oak, swamp white oak, American beech, shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, black walnut, American hornbeam, and American basswood.
  • Several native trees, shrubs, and vines continue to provide ripe fruit (soft mast) that is an important source of food for a variety of birds and mammals: black cherry, cucumber magnolia, common elderberry, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, red osier dogwood, nannyberry, spicebush, hawthorn, staghorn sumac, multiflora rose, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and wild grape.

Insects & Other Invertebrates:

  • Spiders webs are strikingly abundant at this time of year, best seen near dawn when accentuated by dew. Watch for large round webs constructed by orb spiders (e.g., yellow garden spider) as well as funnel-shaped webs constructed by funnel weavers (e.g., grass spider).
  • Ticks remain active so wear protective clothing and/or repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
  • While mosquitoes have been relatively scarce in most areas during dry summer weeks, some species become active during late summer and early autumn starting at about this time, so be prepared with protective clothing and/or repellent.
  • Various species of caddis flies (e.g., the large case-maker caddisfly) and mayflies (e.g., tricos from the genus Tricorythodes) will continue to emerge from streams, providing a valuable food source for trout and other fish, as well as birds and bats.
  • Male katydids will continue to “sing” after dark, albeit at a slower pace during cooler nights. The most common species is the common true katydid. Listen for its “katy-did” call. Also listen for the short and buzzy “zeee-dik” calls of the less common (but more frequently seen) oblong-winged katydid.
  • Cricket song continues to be pervasive this time of year. Fall field crickets emit quintessential cricket chirps both day and night while Carolina ground crickets emit nearly continuous rapid trills, mostly after dark.
  • A walk through any grassy field or roadside will encounter large numbers of grasshoppers this time of year. The most common species in our region include Carolina grasshopper and spur-throated grasshopper.
  • This is a good time to search for praying mantises as they have grown to full size. Local species include the Carolina mantis (native to North America), praying mantis (native to Europe), and Chinese mantid (native to Asia).
  • Hornets such as the eastern yellowjacket and bald-faced hornet are abundant late in the summer, congregating near sources of sugar and other foods to feed thousands of larvae still in their nests.
  • An impressive diversity of insects and other invertebrates is closely associated with goldenrods that are currently in bloom, including goldenrod crab spiders, goldenrod soldier beetles, jagged ambush bugs, and goldenrod gall fly (the species responsible for large marble-sized growths on goldenrod stems). Others are commonly found feeding on goldenrod pollen and nectar, including black locust borers, milkweed bugs, honey bees, bumblebees, wasps, hover flies, monarchs and other butterflies.
  • Late summer butterflies to watch for this week include monarch, viceroy, great spangled fritillary, red admiral, painted lady, pearl crescent, orange sulphur, clouded sulphur, and cabbage white.
  • Included among the late summer butterflies are individuals of three species that will overwinter as adults and be the first butterflies on the wind next spring: mourning cloak, eastern comma, and question mark butterflies.
  • Watch for migrant monarch butterflies moving generally south across our region, often concentrated along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines. Resting congregations may be found in these areas.
  • Monarch caterpillars and chrysalises can still be found on common milkweed, swamp milkweed, and butterfly weed plants.
  • Wooly bear caterpillars are currently active. This species will overwinter beneath leaf litter and ultimately metamorphose into Isabella tiger moth next spring.
  • Late summer dragonfly species (e.g., common green darner, shadow darner, eastern pondhawk, ruby meadowhawk, autumn meadowhawk, black saddlebags, and twelve-spotted skimmer) and damselfly species (e.g., American rubyspot, slender spreadwing, familiar bluet, eastern forktail, and powdered dancer) will be active this week.
  • Migrant dragonflies such as common green darners, black saddlebags, and twelve-spotted skimmers may congregate along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines.

Fish:

  • Many species of fish migrated to deeper cooler waters in early summer, as inshore waters warmed, and have remained there since water temperatures have not yet moderated.
  • Perch typically begin to reform into schools around Labor Day, often at water depths of 40-60 ft or deeper. These schools will move into progressively shallower water as fall advances.
  • Large numbers of chinook salmon (AKA king salmon) are continuing to stage off Great Lakes tributaries, preparing to run up the creeks for spawning which usually peaks in mid-October. Staging and spawning runs for coho salmon typically peak a couple weeks after chinook. Both species are native to Pacific coast watersheds.
  • Historically, Atlantic salmon (AKA landlocked salmon) followed a similar spawning pattern in the Lake Ontario. This native and one-time abundant species was nearly extirpated in the late 1800’s. Restoration efforts have had limited success to date.
  • Steelhead are also staging off Great Lakes tributaries, preparing to run up the creeks for spawning which typically intensifies in mid-October. 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.

Amphibians & Reptiles:

  • Northern leopard frogs remain congregated in upland fields and wet meadows at this time, feeding on abundant insect prey found in those habitats.
  • American toads are often more active at this time of year, including small to medium sized young-of-the-year toads.
  • Listen for occasional single-syllabled “peeps” from spring peepers and, much less commonly, several-syllabled “croaks” of western chorus frogs and raucous calls of gray treefrogs. While the breeding period for these species has long since passed, current daylength is similar to that of the breeding season which may serve as a trigger for vocalizations.
  • This is a good time of year to inspect areas around outdoor lights for spring peepers and gray treefrogs that feed on moths and other insect attracted to the lights. Both species have suction-cup adaptations that allow them to cling to windows and siding.
  • At this time, eastern (red-spotted) newts leave breeding ponds and metamorphose into red efts, a juvenile terrestrial stage. An eft may remain on land in this stage for two or more years before undergoing a second metamorphose into an aquatic breeding adult.
  • Watch for recently hatched common snapping turtles to emerge from nests of eggs laid in late May and early June. In contrast, many midland painted turtle juveniles will overwinter in buried eggs and emerge in late April and early May.
  • Midland painted turtles can often be seen basking on logs, especially during cool but sunny periods.

Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:

  • Early migrant waterfowl and related waterbirds will continue to arrive in the Region. Check ponds, wetlands, and Great Lakes shorelines for common loon, horned grebe, wood duck, American wigeon, northern shoveler, gadwall, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, northern pintail, common merganser, and hooded merganser.
  • Late summer is a good time to see vagrant great egrets that appear in wetlands and other waterbodies, sometimes several at a time.
  • Watch for red-throated loons, red-necked grebes, and white-winged scoters in open water areas of the Great Lakes.
  • Most common terns that nested at Great Lakes and Niagara River colony sites have migrated out of the Buffalo-Niagara Region.
  • Watch for migrant 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.
  • Shorebird migration will continue this week highlighted by greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, black-bellied plover, semi-palmated plover, American golden plover, spotted sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, killdeer, ruddy turnstone, red knot, sanderling, semi-palmated sandpiper, least sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, white-rumped sandpiper, and Baird’s sandpiper. Look for them in shallow flooded areas and mudflats where invertebrate prey abounds.

Birds of Prey:

  • Early migrant hawks such as broad-winged hawk, red-shouldered, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcon, merlin, and osprey are currently passing through the Buffalo-Niagara Region.
  • Listen for barred owls and eastern screech owls calling more frequently this time of year, possibly in response to young-of-the-year dispersing and establishing territories.
  • Most young-of-the-year great horned owls still rely on their parents for food. Listen for occasional food-begging calls (hissy squawks) after dark.

Upland Game Birds:

  • Wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and ring-necked pheasant numbers are near annual peaks at this time, bolstered by young-of-the-year and supported by an abundance of food.

Songbirds:

  • Most summer resident ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles have left the Buffalo-Niagara Region for their southern wintering range.
  • Adult and young-of-the-year neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) are leaving the Buffalo-Niagara Region and Canadian birds are passing through the Region on their way south, including: least flycatcher, yellow-bellied flycatcher, eastern wood peewee, red-breasted nuthatch, blue-gray gnatcatcher, Philadelphia vireo, blue-headed vireo, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, veery, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, gray-cheeked thrush, and scarlet tanager.
  • Among these neotropical migrants are a couple dozen species of warblers. The second half of September is typically the peak period for migrant warblers in the Region. More than 20 species of warblers have been observed in the Region over the past week.
  • The following shorter-distance migrant songbirds are also passing through our region on their journey south: yellow-bellied sapsucker, winter wren, ruby-crowned kinglet, golden-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, purple finch, white-throated sparrow, and Lincoln’s sparrow.
  • Experience migrant passage by listening for songbird contact calls after dark. Monitor movements on Doppler radar or at http://birdcast.info/.
  • Small flocks of eastern bluebirds and small to medium sized flocks of American robins may be seen this time of year.
  • Postnuptial molt, the replacement of colorful breeding season feathers with drab overwintering feathers, occurs at this time. It is most evident with American goldfinches visiting our feeders and “confusing fall warblers” migrating through the Region.
  • 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).

Mammals:

  • The following tree bats, which migrate south for the winter, will continue to move out of our region and/or pass through our region this week: eastern red, silver-haired, and hoary bats.
  • Big brown and little brown bats congregate at hibernation sites at this time, swarming and mating.
  • Coyotes are often quite vocal at this time of year.
  • Eastern chipmunks, gray squirrels, and southern flying squirrels are actively gathering and storing acorns and other mast for winter.
  • Chipmunks are very vocal at this time, emitting territorial “chuck-chuck-chuck” calls.
  • Flying squirrels are also very vocal now, emitting high-pitched chirps and squeaks after dark. Listen for them calling from oak, hickory, and American beech trees.
  • Beavers cut more trees this time of year, in preparation for winter. They will cut, transport, and cache cut branches in shallow water near their lodges for wintertime feeding.
  • White-tailed deer are continuing to shed their summer coats, transitioning from red-brown to gray-brown pelage. Spots are now faint on most fawns.
  • This is the time of year to start watching for white-tailed deer buck rubs. As their antlers harden, bucks actively rub saplings and small trees to shed the outer layer of velvet and concurrently deposit scent from forehead glands.

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

Chuck Rosenburg

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