April 2-8, 2019 (Week 14 of 52): Spring’s Advance Continues at a Moderate Pace This Week

The weather forecast this week for the Buffalo-Niagara Region calls for seasonal temperatures which will continue to progress spring-time plant growth and animal activities. A few grasses, sedges, and rushes are now beginning to sprout. Skunk cabbage will continue to bloom, and coltsfoot will follow suit. Red maple, silver maple, and pussy willows will continue to flower, joined now by quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, American elm, and eastern hop-hornbeam.

Even with relatively little precipitation in the forecast, early breeding species of frogs and salamanders will continue to migrate to and breed in vernal pools and other ponds and wetlands. Southerly winds will carry more northbound migrant birds into and through our region, especially late in Week 14. Early breeding bird species are continuing to sing, display, and initiate nesting. Squirrels, foxes, and coyotes are now giving birth to young.

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):

  • 6:50 AM/7:47 PM DST (12 Hours, 57 Minutes)
  • 3 Hours, 56 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
  • 57 minutes of daylight longer than at Vernal Equinox

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 50.3° F  Normal Low Temperature: 33.0° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru April 3, 2019: 22

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • While the west end of Lake Ontario is 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) remained at 38°F as of April 4.
  • Inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools are near annual high-water levels.
  • Streams will continue with moderate to high flow levels this week.

Fungi:

  • 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:

  • While freezing temperatures during late autumn killed remnant grass, sedge, and rush stems, the roots of these perennial plants survived and are beginning to sprout (in particular, wool-grass (a type of bulrush), a variety of sedge species, soft rush, and wetland grasses).

Wildflowers:

  • 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, near its peak blooming period this week.
  • Coltsfoot, a non-native species that has naturalized across the region, is starting to bloom in some 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 is flowing in trees and shrubs, 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 will be close to peak flowering this week.
  • Pussy willows will continue to “flower” across most of the region, soon developing stamens that will produce pollen.
  • Some quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, American elm, and eastern hophornbeam have started to flower this week.
  • Wind-dispersed pollen of red & silver maples and poplars are currently the leading allergens in the Buffalo-Niagara Region.

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 continue to be active during relatively warm days this week.

Fish:

  • 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.
  • Large schools of alewife will continue to move from cold depths of Lakes Erie and Ontario to nearshore areas in preparation for spawning.
  • Large runs of brown bullheads may enter tributary streams and harbors.
  • 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.
  • Some northern leopard frogs have joined the frog chorus in ponds, 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.
  • Red efts (non-breeding migrant phase of the eastern/red-spotted newt) will migrate to breeding ponds this week where they will transform into breeding adults, joining newts that overwintered in the ponds.
  • 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 will emerge from hibernation/brumation. Watch for “snake balls” – breeding clusters consisting of multiple males attempting to mate with a single female.
  • Common snapping and midland painted turtles will continue to be active this week. Watch for painted turtles basking on logs, especially during cool but sunny periods.
  • Watch for tiny midland painted turtles to emerge from nests in lawns, flower beds, and road shoulders – typically near ponds and wetlands.

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, 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.
  • Some early breeding ducks such as mallard and wood duck may already be incubating eggs.
  • 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 common loon, double-crested cormorant, American bittern, black-crowned night-heron, pied-billed grebe, horned grebe, and American coot this week.
  • Bonaparte’s gulls will continue to enter 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 continue to perform their elaborate aerial displays designed to attract mates. Woodcock perform mostly near dawn and dusk whereas snipe display mostly during daylight hours.
  • Some woodcock hens are already 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).

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. Wild turkey toms, with colorful heads and fanned tails, will intensify their courtship displays 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.

Songbirds:

  • 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. Be sure to place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract these migrants.
  • 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).
  • Additional early migrant songbirds will continue to trickle into the region:   brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglet, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, winter wren, northern flicker, American pipit, belted kingfisher, eastern meadowlark, eastern bluebird, American robin, horned lark, red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, purple finch, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow, chipping sparrow, and American goldfinch.
  • Watch for large flocks of migrating blackbirds consisting of red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, and/or European starling.
  • Songbirds have initiated their pre-nuptial molt – most evident in male American goldfinches visiting feeders.
  • 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.

Mammals:

  • 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 and are actively feeding and breeding this week.
  • Gray squirrels, red squirrels, and southern flying squirrels will give birth to the first of two litters of young at about this time.
  • 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.
  • Coyotes and red & gray fox give birth to pups at about this time.
  • 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.

Chuck Rosenburg

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