With warmer than average temperatures forecast for the Buffalo-Niagara Region during much of this week, spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out) will begin to flower abundantly later this week, and will likely reach peak bloom next week. Southerly winds will propel the ongoing passage of migrant birds, some of which will nest in the Buffalo-Niagara Region and others which will continue north to breeding grounds in Canada. Many other animal and plant activities will also advance.
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):
- 6:27 AM/8:03 PM DST (13 Hours, 36 Minutes)
- 4 Hours, 35 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
- Normal High Temperature: 56.6° F Normal Low Temperature: 38.1° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru April 15, 2019: 53
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) rose slightly to 39°F as of April 16.
- 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.
- Watch for early fungi such as scarlet cup fungus in hardwood forests.
Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:
- Fiddleheads (furled leaf fronds coiled like the scroll of a violin head) will start to emerge for a few species of wetland ferns (e.g., cinnamon, royal, and sensitive ferns) later this week.
- Watch for field horsetail growing in wet areas, resembling a small pine seedling.
- While we’ve seen just slight grass growth in our lawns, wool-grass (a type of bulrush), a variety of sedge species, and wetland grasses have grown several inches in wet meadows and the edges of marshes.
- Skunk cabbage is nearly done flowering. Its large skunky-smelling leaves will become evident in forested wetlands over the next couple weeks.
- The large leaves of false hellebore will also become evident in forested wetlands, but this species won’t flower until late May or June.
- Sharp-lobed hepatica and bloodroot, the earliest of our spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out), will continue to bloom in suitable areas this week.
- Watch for other early-flowering spring ephemerals such as spring cress, purple cress, and red trillium.
- Most other spring ephemeral wildflowers will begin to bloom later this week and reach peak flowering next week, including yellow trout lily, spring beauty, Carolina spring beauty, northern blue violet, Canada white violet, downy yellow violet, wild ginger, large-flowered (white) trillium, blue cohosh, early meadow rue, cut-leaved toothwort, two-leaved toothwort, foam flower, Dutchman’s breeches, and squirrel corn. Sites along the Niagara and Onondaga Escarpments offer the greatest diversity and abundance of these species.
- 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 bloom in some areas this week. It is most common in floodplain forest habitats.
Trees and Shrubs:
- The flowering of red and silver maple trees is now slightly beyond peak, but still adding subtle color to our leafless woodlands.
- Pussy willows will flower across most of the region this week, developing stamens that will produce pollen.
- Spicebush will start to flower in some forested wetlands later this week. Look for its small yellow blossoms. Blooming will approach peak over the next week.
- A few serviceberry trees and shadbush shrubs may begin to bloom in forest understory and edge habitats. Blooming will approach peak over the next week.
- 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, poplars/aspens, and American elm continue to be the leading allergens in the Buffalo Area at this time.
- Leaf buds on Tartarian and Morrow’s honeysuckles will produce small leaves this week. Early leaf-out of this non-native invasive shrub species helps to give it a competitive advantage over native shrubs.
- Choke cherry, a native fruit-bearing shrub, will also produce small leaves this week.
Insects & Other Invertebrates:
- Ticks are now active so wear protective clothing and/or repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
- 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 pollinators such as bumblebees and hover flies 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 will migrate back into our Region from the South this week, typically the earliest dragonflies to be seen here.
- 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 continue to move 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 entering 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 western chorus frog, spring peeper, northern leopard frog, and American toad will continue to vocalize and breed in wetlands and vernal pools when temperatures are warm enough (typically 40° F or warmer).
- Most mole salamanders (spotted, blue-spotted, and Jefferson salamanders) have now migrated out of the vernal pools, where they bred, and have returned to their mostly subterranean lifestyles in nearby upland forest habitats. Look for egg masses left behind in 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:
- Fair 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 Motor Island and a large rookery on one of the small islands just above the brink of Niagara Falls.
- Double-crested cormorants are returning in large numbers to the Niagara River and Great Lakes.
- Watch for additional migrant and summer resident water birds such as the common loon, American bittern, black-crowned night-heron, pied-billed grebe, horned grebe, green heron, Virginia rail, sora, common gallinule, 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.
- The numbers of common terns will continue to build along the Great Lakes and Niagara River this week. They will start nesting at their typical colony sites soon.
- 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, pectoral sandpiper, 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:
- 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.
- Most year-round resident raptors such as the great horned owl, barred owl, eastern screech owl, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and red-tailed hawk are incubating eggs or brooding young chicks.
- Recent arrivals such as the red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and osprey are establishing breeding territories and initiating nesting.
Upland Game Birds:
- Wild turkey flocks are starting to dissolve. 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.
- Enjoy viewing dark-eyed juncos and American tree at bird feeders as most will leave for northern breeding grounds over the next week or two.
- 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, blue-gray gnatcatcher, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, barn swallow, rough-winged swallow, bank swallow, purple martin, winter wren, house wren, northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American pipit, belted kingfisher, hermit thrush, brown thrasher, eastern meadowlark, red-winged blackbird (females), rusty blackbird, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow, chipping sparrow, field sparrow, swamp sparrow, and savannah sparrow.
- Among the early migrant songbirds will be some warblers, including yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, palm warbler, yellow warbler, black-and-white warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, and northern waterthrush.
- 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.
- Male woodchucks have emerged from hibernation and seek to mate with females as they emerge from their winter dens.
- An occasional big brown bat may emerge late this week from hibernacula in local attics etc. and be seen foraging for insects.
- 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.
- 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 continue to 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 continue to 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 gets into full swing.
Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of spring.