October 1-7, 2018 (Week 40 of 52): Autumn Colors are Finally Starting to Shine

Now that the Buffalo-Niagara Region has witnessed a period of seasonal temperatures, autumn conditions are finally beginning to show. Fall leaf color is now evident across the Region, albeit spotty. While overall peak leaf color is a couple weeks away, some species are fully colored now and leaf color is near peak in certain habitats (e.g., shrublands, forested wetlands). Goldenrod and aster blooms are abundant and just beyond peak, covering much of the natural landscape in yellow, white, purple, and lavender. Several species of trout and salmon are preparing to spawn. The bulk of neotropical migrant songbirds are now well south of our region and the primary species passing through at this time are short-distance migrants such as ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and white-throated sparrow. Most year-round resident mammals continue to prepare for winter, storing mast and/or building up fat reserves. Several species will enter hibernation soon. Finally, white-tailed deer continue to show signs of preparing for the rut (e.g., buck rubs, scrapes).

Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region this week. Those in bold/italics are new or substantially revised 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):

  • 7:17 AM/6:51 PM EDT (11 Hours, 34 Minutes)
  • 3 Hours, 47 minutes of daylight shorter than at Summer Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 63.5° F  Normal Low Temperature: 46.5° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru October 1, 2018: 3019

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo dropped to 67°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 63°F as of September 30, 2018.
  • Water levels in most interior wetlands and vernal pools remain low but are starting to rise in response to recent rainfall and reduced evapotranspiration rates.
  • Similarly, the water level in most ponds is low but starting to rise.
  • Most streams will exhibit moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for locally higher levels if areas experience thunderstorms or other significant rain events.

Fungi:

  • Eruptions of mushrooms and other fungi will continue this week. Rich woodlands continue to support an abundance of fungi in an amazing variety of shapes and colors.
  • The following species of fungi may be observed in rich woodlands this week: giant puffball, chicken of-the-woods, hen of-the-woods, oyster, honey, fly agaric, jack-o-lantern, turkey-tail, hemlock varnish shelf, bear’s head tooth fungus, bearded tooth, and multiple species (and colors) of coral fungi and bolete and chanterelle mushrooms.
  • Shaggy mane mushrooms can be found in lawns and along wood chip trails, often in fairy rings

Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:

  • An often overlooked fall color change occurs with ferns in the forest understory. The following ferns often exhibit striking color changes, albeit briefly, at this time: sensitive, New York, bracken, royal, cinnamon, interrupted, and ostrich ferns.
  • 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 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 also continue to bloom this week: herb Robert, white snakeroot, and beech-drops (a wildflower that is a parasite on American beech roots).
  • Watch for brilliant orange (but acrid) fruits of Jack-in-the-pulpit as well as white “dolls-eye” fruits (poisonous) 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. Both bear spring-loaded “touch-me-not” fruits that explode upon contact.
  • 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, heal-all, butter-and-eggs, and multiple species (and hybrids) of knapweeds.
  • Our native open field/woodland edge goldenrods and asters will continue to flower this week: 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. While many field goldenrods are now fading to brown, most asters remain vibrant.
  • Some 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.
  • Lady’s thumb and other smartweeds continue to bloom in swamps and marshes.
  • Japanese knotweed, an invasive species that thrives in riparian habitats, is currently exhibiting brilliant yellow leaves – one positive feature of this aggressive alien species.
  • Similarly, golden yellow leaves of native common milkweed, swamp milkweed, and Indian hemp can be seen in old fields and wet meadows.
  • Swamp milkweed pods are bursting and releasing hundreds of seeds to the wind, each equipped with fluffy “parachutes” to aid dispersal.
  • 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, cocklebur, and multiple species of bur marigold, avens, and agrimony.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Fall leaf color is now evident across the Region, albeit spotty. While overall peak color is a couple weeks away, some species are fully colored now and leaf color is near peak in certain habitats (e.g., shrublands, forested wetlands).
  • The following trees, shrubs, and woody vines are providing brilliant red leaf color: red maple, staghorn sumac, and Virginia creeper.
  • Many shrubland areas and forest edges are reddish-purple at this time as a result of the abundance of Region’s three species of dogwood: gray, silky, and red-osier.
  • Some green and white ash trees exhibit a remarkable purple-bronze leaf color at this time. Their previous abundance, prior to widespread infestation by emerald ash borer, is especially missed at this time of year.
  • Splashes of flame orange leaves can be now be found on a few sugar maples, as well as poison ivy and blackberry.
  • The following trees and shrubs display brilliant gold and yellow leaf color: American basswood, black walnut, silver maple, some green ash, a few quaking aspen and shagbark hickory, and spicebush. Several other tree species have yellow leaves that are a less attractive dull yellow-brown: eastern cottonwood, American elm, box-elder, and black cherry.
  • Eastern white pine and red pine are shedding “golden oldie” needles as brand new green needles take their place.
  • Many native pines are also dropping seeds from cones at this time.
  • 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, choke cherry, black chokeberry, cucumber magnolia, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, red osier dogwood, nannyberry, arrow-wood, cranberry viburnum, maple-leaf viburnum, spicebush, winterberry, hawthorn, staghorn sumac, multiflora rose, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and wild grape.
  • Watch closely for stringy yellow petals of witch-hazel flowers. Also note the presence of nearly ripe (but woody) fruits from last year’s flowers.

Insects & Other Invertebrates:

  • Adult stage ticks become especially abundant in early October and remain active as long as temperatures stay above freezing and the ground is not covered with snow. Therefore, be especially careful to 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 early autumn starting at about this time, so be prepared with protective clothing and/or repellent.
  • A few 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 in early fall, congregating near sources of sugar and other foods to feed thousands of larvae still in their nests.
  • Watch for swarms of winged ants that emerge from the ground, climb and fly to high points on the landscape, and mate on the wing.
  • Abundant blooms of goldenrods and asters provide essential late season food (nectar and pollen) for native pollinators such as bumblebees and migrant monarch butterflies.
  • 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.
  • Early autumn butterflies to watch for this week include monarch, great spangled fritillary, painted lady, orange sulphur, clouded sulphur, and cabbage white.
  • Included among the early fall 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 that continue to move south across our region, often concentrated along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines. Resting congregations may be found in these areas.
  • Wooly bear caterpillars are currently active. This species will overwinter beneath leaf litter and ultimately metamorphose into Isabella tiger moth next spring.
  • Early fall dragonfly species (e.g., common green darner, shadow darner, eastern pondhawk, ruby meadowhawk, autumn meadowhawk, and black saddlebags) 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 and black saddlebags may congregate along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines.

Fish:

  • Most species of fish migrated to deeper cooler waters in early summer, as inshore waters warmed. Many have started moving into shallower areas and begin to feed more heavily as water temperatures have moderated including muskellunge, walleye, and smallmouth bass.
  • Perch typically begin to reform into schools around Labor Day, often at water depths of 40-60 ft or deeper. These schools are moving into progressively shallower water as fall advances.
  • Large numbers of chinook salmon (AKA king salmon) are continuing to stage off Great Lakes tributaries and beginning to run up the creeks and the Lower Niagara River 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.
  • Another native species, lake trout, are beginning to migrate to shallow rocky/gravelly shoals in preparation for spawning over the next few weeks.
  • Native brook trout (our state fish species) are preparing to spawn in riffles and shallow areas of small cold-water streams starting later this month. Male brook trout develop a hook on the lower jaw and are ornately colored at this time of year.
  • Steelhead are also staging off Great Lakes tributaries, preparing to run up the creeks which typically intensifies in mid-October. Spawning does not occur until late winter and early spring. 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.
  • Plethodon salamanders, such as the red-backed and slimy salamanders, mate at this time. Females lay eggs during spring in rotting wood and duff.
  • 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.
  • Midland painted turtles can still 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 and wetlands for pied-billed grebe, mallard, American black duck, wood duck, American wigeon, northern shoveler, gadwall, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, northern pintail, hooded merganser, and American coot.
  • Watch and listen for migrant Canada goose flocks passing overhead. Some will stop-over in our region to rest and feed on their journey south.
  • The annual buildup of “sea ducks” and similar waterbirds that overwinter in the Great Lakes and Niagara River begins at this time with the arrival of common loon, horned grebe, greater scaup, lesser scaup, white-winged scoter, surf scoter, common merganser, and red-breasted merganser.
  • 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
  • Early fall continues to be a good time to see vagrant great egrets that appear in wetlands and other waterbodies, sometimes several at a time.
  • The trailing edge of shorebird migration will continue this week highlighted by greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, black-bellied plover, semi-palmated plover, American golden plover, killdeer, sanderling, dunlin, Wilson’s snipe, pectoral sandpiper, and white-rumped sandpiper. Look for them in shallow flooded areas and mudflats where invertebrate prey abounds.
  • Bonaparte’s gulls typically begin to enter the region at this time, using the Niagara River as a significant stop-over feeding area along their migration route south. This species will reach its peak fall numbers in the region in November and December when thousands may be observed along the Niagara River.
  • This is the time to start watching for rare species of gulls such as the little gull and Sabine’s gull. Such rarities add to the remarkable diversity of gull species – 19 species total – that have been observed along the Niagara River and bordering Great Lakes. The peak time is typically between mid-November and mid-January.

Birds of Prey:

  • Migrant turkey vultures and hawks are currently passing through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, including red-tailed hawk, broad-winged hawk, red-shouldered hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcon, merlin, northern harrier, osprey, and bald eagle.
  • 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.

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:

  • Watch bird feeders for arrivals of migrant and overwintering feeder birds such as red-breasted nuthatch, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, song sparrow, purple finch, and pine siskin. Place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract many of these migrants.
  • Relatively small numbers of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that breed in northern North America and overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) are now passing through the Region on their way south, including: Swainson’s thrush, gray-cheeked thrush, and the following species of warblers: Nashville, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, palm, orange-crowned, and blackpoll.
  • The following shorter-distance migrant songbirds are also passing through our region on their journey south: brown creeper, red-breasted nuthatch, golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, eastern phoebe, winter wren, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American pipit, hermit thrush, brown thrasher, yellow-rumped warbler, rusty blackbird, eastern meadowlark, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, dark-eyed junco, field sparrow, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, swamp sparrow, purple finch, and pine siskin.
  • Small flocks and family groups of eastern bluebirds and northern flickers may be seen this time of year, as well as small to medium sized flocks of American robins.
  • Watch for large flocks of blackbirds consisting of red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, and/or European starling.
  • Small flocks of horned larks are being seen in open farmland. They will soon be joined by snow buntings and Lapland longspurs, with many overwintering in our region.
  • Experience migrant passage by listening for songbird contact calls after dark. Monitor movements on Doppler radar or at http://birdcast.info/.
  • 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, little brown, and eastern pipistrelle (tri-colored) bats congregate at hibernation sites at this time, swarming and mating. Hibernation will begin soon.
  • Two other species of true hibernator mammals, meadow jumping mouse and woodland jumping mouse, will begin hibernation soon.
  • 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.
  • Coyotes are often quite vocal at this time of year.
  • White-tailed deer are nearly done shedding 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 watch 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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