April 9-15, 2019 (Week 15 of 52): Large Temperature Swings Have Caused an Erratic Spring Progression

The large swings in air temperature that the Buffalo-Niagara Region experienced over the past few weeks will continue through much of Week 15. Those temperature swings have led to an erratic progression of spring, characterized by fits and starts. The unexpectedly warm weather April 6-8 triggered considerable plant growth and insect emergence while the associated southerly winds provided excellent conditions for northbound migrant birds to enter the Region. Subsequent cool temperatures and northerly winds shut down that progression. However, tomorrow’s unseasonably warm and wet weather will revive plant growth and animal activities, albeit briefly.

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):

  • 6:38 AM/7:55 PM DST (13 Hours, 17 Minutes)
  • 4 Hours, 16 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 53.5° F  Normal Low Temperature: 35.6° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru April 10, 2019: 40

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) as the ice boom is still in place.
  • 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 11.
  • Inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools are near annual high-water levels.
  • Streams will continue with moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for high levels if the Region experiences thunderstorms and/or other heavy precipitation.

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, remaining near its peak blooming period this week.
  • The earliest of the spring ephemeral wildflowers, sharp-lobed hepatica and bloodroot, may start to bloom in some areas this week.
  • The leaves of spring ephemeral wildflowers can now be found in many woodlands, the most evident being yellow trout lily with its mottled pattern (resembling a brook trout). A few buds and blossoms may start to show this week.
  • Wild leek leaves have emerged in some upland forests. This is the best time of year to harvest leeks (AKA ramps). Be sure to harvest sustainably and with landowner permission.
  • Coltsfoot, a non-native species that has naturalized across the region, will continue to bloom this week. Look for its yellow, dandelion-like flowers.
  • Lesser celandine, an invasive non-native species of buttercup, will begin to bloom in some areas this week. It is most common in floodplain forest habitats.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Red and silver maple trees will be remain near peak flowering this week.
  • Pussy willows will continue to “flower” across most of the region, soon developing stamens that will produce pollen.
  • Quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, American elm, eastern hophornbeam, speckled alder, and American hazelnut will continue to flower this week.
  • Wind-dispersed pollen of red & silver maples, alder, and American elm are currently the leading allergens in the Buffalo Area.
  • Leaf buds on some Tartarian and Morrow’s honeysuckles may open this week. Early leaf-out of these non-native invasive shrub species helps to give them a competitive advantage over native shrubs.

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.
  • Watch for honeybees and native bumblebees visiting newly blooming flowers this week.
  • 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.
  • Common green darners may start migrating back into our Region from the South this week, typically the earliest dragonflies to be seen here.

Fish:

  • 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 will continue to enter tributary streams and harbors.
  • Walleye and yellow perch will be moving into shallow waters to spawn.
  • 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, spring peeper, and northern leopard frog will continue to vocalize and breed in wetlands and vernal pools when temperatures are warm enough (typically 40° F or warmer).
  • Some American toads have joined the frog chorus in ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools.
  • Red efts (non-breeding migrant phase of the eastern/red-spotted newt) will continue to 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 remain active this week. They can be found under rocks and logs during the day.
  • Eastern garter snakes will continue to 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:

  • Noticeably smaller numbers of over-wintering ducks remain in open water areas of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario this week. The most abundant species at this time is the red-breasted merganser, many of which are performing courtship displays and vocalizations.
  • 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. Don’t be surprised to see wood ducks perched in trees, near nest cavities, this time of year.
  • 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).
  • Black-crowned night-herons will gather at nesting areas (rookeries), including a large rookery on one of the small islands just above the brink of Niagara Falls.
  • 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.
  • Watch for 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.
  • Killdeer pairs are courting this week and some may be nesting.
  • 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.
  • Other early migrant shorebirds may arrive in our area this week: greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, and spotted sandpiper.
  • 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 migrate through and 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.
  • Listen for drumming displays by male ruffed grouse in the southern part of the Buffalo-Niagara region as well as the Alabama Swamps area.
  • Male ring-necked pheasants that have become naturalized in the region will continue their rooster-like crowing to establish territories and attract mates. Some hens may be laying eggs at this time.

Songbirds:

  • Typical winter songbirds such as the dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrowsback, scaup, common goldeneye, common merganser, long-tailed duck plus less common species such as the pine siskin and common redpoll will continue to visit local bird feeders. Most will leave for northern breeding grounds over the next two or three weeks.
  • Watch for early migrant feeder birds such as red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, chipping sparrow, white-throated 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, ruby-crowned kinglet, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, barn swallow, rough-winged swallow, purple martin, winter wren, northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American pipit, belted kingfisher, hermit thrush, brown thrasher, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, eastern meadowlark, eastern bluebird, American robin, horned lark, red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow, chipping sparrow, field sparrow, swamp sparrow, savannah sparrow, and American goldfinch.
  • Songbirds have initiated their pre-nuptial molt – most evident in male American goldfinches visiting feeders.
  • Early breeding songbirds such as the mourning dove, blue jay, American crow, horned lark, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, American robin, eastern bluebird, European starling, song sparrow, northern cardinal, common grackle, house finch, and house sparrow may already be incubating eggs. Others will continue to sing, establish territories, and court as they prepare to nest.

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.
  • 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.
  • Yearling beavers disperse from natal ponds to establish their own territories at this time. Now is an especially good time to find scent mounds marking beaver territories, typically along edges of beaver ponds.
  • Eastern cottontails will give birth to the first of three litters of young at about this time.
  • 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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