With temperatures mostly at or above normal in the Buffalo-Niagara Region, the spring-time advancement by plants and animals that started in Week 11 has continued into Week 13. Red and silver maples, as well as pussy willows and skunk cabbage, are flowering. Early breeding species of frogs and salamanders have started migrating to and breeding in vernal pools and other ponds/wetlands, especially following Saturday’s heavy rainfall. Early migrant bird species are continuing to trickle into the Region, and early breeding species are continuing to sing, display, and initiate nesting. However, from Sunday through early Tuesday this week, the Region is forecast to return to temperatures that are well below normal. That will put most of the plants and some of the animals into a brief period of suspended animation. Regardless, an abundance and diversity of life can still be found by anyone eager to get outdoors.
Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region this third 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):
- 7:02 AM/7:39 PM DST (12 Hours, 37 Minutes)
- 3 Hours, 36 minutes hours of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
- 37 minutes of daylight longer than at Vernal Equinox
- Normal High Temperature: 47.2° F; Normal Low Temperature: 30.4° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru March 29, 2019: 17
Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:
- While the west end of Lake Ontario is mostly ice-free, the east end of Lake Erie is still mostly ice-covered (albeit less concentrated).
- The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo remained at 32°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) warmed slightly to 38°F as of March 30.
- Inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools are ice free and near annual high-water levels.
- Streams will continue with moderate to high flow levels this week.
- With the onset of winter, most fungal fruiting bodies (e.g., mushrooms, bracket fungi) were extinguished. The fungal “roots” (mycelium network) survive the winter and produce new fruiting bodies during the appropriate season next year. Interestingly, fruiting bodies of some species of fungi (e.g., oyster mushrooms) remain viable during the winter and may disseminate spores during warm periods or in early spring.
Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:
- Freezing temperatures during late autumn killed remnant grass, sedge, and rush stems. The roots of these perennial plants survive and will sprout soon.
- Wildflower stems died back following late fall freezing temperatures. Roots and rhizomes of perennial wildflowers will survive and sprout soon. Seeds of annual wildflowers will do the same.
- Skunk cabbage will continue to flower in forested wetlands, approaching its peak blooming period this week and next.
- Coltsfoot, a non-native species that has naturalized across the region, is starting to bloom in relatively sunny areas (but little activity yet in shaded areas). Look for its yellow, dandelion-like flowers.
Trees and Shrubs:
- Sugar maple sap will continue to flow (and be harvested within some sugar bushes).
- Sap flow is occurring in other tree and shrub species, too, as visualized by brighter yellow branches of crack and other willows and redder branches of red osier and silky dogwoods.
- Red and silver maple trees have begun to flower in full force this week.
- Pussy willow flower buds burst across most of the region this week.
Insects & Other Invertebrates:
- Freezing temperatures during late autumn killed most adult insects and other invertebrates that did not migrate or enter hibernation. The vast majority of insect species in our Region over-winter as eggs or larvae/nymphs/pupae, although some species over-winter as adults.
- Flooded lawns will force earthworms to the surface and onto roads, driveways, and sidewalks where they are easily gleaned by American robins.
- 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.
- 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 overwintered as adults) will become active during relatively warm days this week.
- Most species of fish will remain relatively sedentary as water temperatures in most lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams hover at or just above freezing.
- Northern pike are concentrated in tributary streams, ditches, and shoreline wetlands for spawning.
- White suckers will continue to migrate upstream within Great Lakes tributary streams to their spawning grounds.
- Steelhead that migrated from Lakes Erie and Ontario into tributary streams (including Niagara River) last fall are joined by fresh steelhead starting to enter tributaries in preparation for spring spawning (when water temperature approaches 42°F). 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.
- Some brown trout that spawned in Great Lakes tributaries and the Lower Niagara River in autumn remain in those areas through winter. Brown trout were introduced into our Region from Europe.
- The DEC will continue to stock some local streams with hatchery-raised brown, brook, and/or rainbow trout this week.
Amphibians & Reptiles:
- Early breeding frogs such as the wood frog, western chorus frog, and spring peeper will continue to vocalize and breed in wetlands and vernal pools.
- Spotted, blue-spotted, and Jefferson’s salamanders will continue to make their annual migration to vernal pool breeding sites when conditions are favorable this week.
- Some eastern (red-spotted) newts may migrate to breeding ponds this week where they join newts that overwintered in the ponds.
- Common snapping and midland painted turtles have been active over the past week. Watch for painted turtles basking on logs, especially during cool but sunny periods.
Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:
- Thousands of diving ducks will remain in their wintering areas, primarily open water areas of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. The most abundant species include common merganser, red-breasted merganser, common goldeneye, bufflehead, canvasback, scaup, and long-tailed duck. Many will be performing courtship displays and vocalizations.
- Watch for red-throated loons, red-necked grebes, and white-winged scoters in open water areas of the Great Lakes.
- Horned grebes will continue to use open water areas as stop-over feeding areas along their migration route north.
- Large flocks of Canada geese, snow geese, and tundra swans will continue to stop-over in the region on their migration northward. The highest concentrations are typically found at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and adjoining Tonawanda and Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Areas.
- Larger numbers of “puddle ducks” such as the northern pintail, American wigeon, mallard, American black, gadwall, 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 such as Iroquois NWR.
- Pairs of Canada geese will continue to occupy and defend nesting sites in ponds and wetlands.
- Great blue herons will continue to nest on Motor Island in the Niagara River (along with a few great egrets), as well as inland nesting areas (rookeries).
- Watch for additional migrant and summer resident water birds such as the double-crested cormorant, black-crowned night-heron, pied-billed grebe, and American coot this week.
- Bonaparte’s gulls will begin to build up in the region, using the Niagara River as a significant stop-over feeding area along their migration route north. This species will reach its peak spring numbers in the region in mid- to late April when thousands will be present along the Niagara River.
- Male American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe will perform their elaborate aerial displays designed to attract mates. Woodcock perform mostly near dawn and dusk whereas snipe display mostly during daylight hours.
- 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:
- Some winter resident raptors (e.g., snowy owl, short-eared owl, rough-legged hawk, northern harrier) will continue to linger in the region, especially in areas with extensive open grassland habitat.
- Spring migration flights of hawks, falcons, eagles, and turkey vultures will continue to follow the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shores as they migrate north. An excellent observation area for seeing hundreds (sometimes thousands) of these migrants 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.
- Year-round resident raptors such as the great horned owl, barred owl, eastern screech owl, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and red-tailed hawk are paired up and many are already on-nest. Some great horned owl nests may have young chicks already.
- Recent arrivals such as the red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and osprey will be establishing nesting territories.
Upland Game Birds:
- Wild turkeys will continue to travel and feed in flocks. Some toms may start displaying to hens.
- Male ring-necked pheasants that have become naturalized in the region will continue their rooster-like crowing to establish territories and attract mates.
- Typical winter songbirds such as the dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrow plus less common species such as the pine siskin will continue to visit local bird feeders.
- Bird feeders will also be active with year-round resident birds such as mourning dove, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, northern cardinal, house finch, and American goldfinch.
- Watch for early migrant feeder birds such as red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, chipping sparrow, fox sparrow, song sparrow, purple finch, and American goldfinch.
- If you don’t have a feeder of your own, consider visiting a local nature education center (see the last column of the site lists under the “B-N Region & Sites” tab on this web page).
- Early migrant songbirds (e.g., brown creeper, winter wren, golden-crowned kinglet, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, northern flicker, eastern bluebird, hermit thrush, American robin, eastern meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, chipping sparrow, field sparrow, fox sparrow, song sparrow, swamp sparrow, and American goldfinch) will continue to trickle into the region.
- Watch for large flocks of migrating blackbirds consisting of red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, and/or European starling.
- Early breeding songbirds such as the horned lark, mourning dove, American crow, and American robin may already be incubating eggs. Others will continue to sing, establish territories, and court including black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, blue jay, northern cardinal, red-winged blackbird, song sparrow, and house finch.
- Male woodchucks have emerged from hibernation and seek to mate with females as they emerge from their winter dens.
- 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.
- Ermine (AKA short-tailed weasel) are molting from white to brown pelage at this time.
- Tiny newborn opossums suckle from the safety and warmth of their mother’s pouch. A single litter often consists of over a dozen young.
- Eastern chipmunks have emerged from winter torpor will be actively feeding and breeding this week.
- Muskrat love is in the air. Male muskrats actively seek females and are therefore exposed to greater risks of predation and road kill.
- Watch for elaborate courtship displays by eastern cottontail pairs, including “boxing matches” and high-jumping antics.
- Most large mammals bred during the fall or winter, so we can expect to see fawns, pups, and kits over the next few to several weeks.
- White-tailed deer will continue to travel in herds. Finding food will continue to be difficult until the growing season begins.
Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of spring.