Following a few unseasonably warm days over the past week, spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that flower fleetingly before trees leaf-out) are just beginning to bloom abundantly across the Buffalo-Niagara Region. Most will reach peak flowering next week The timing of this annual spring spectacle is close to the long-term average for our Region based on records I’ve kept over the past 30+ years. With unseasonably cool weather forecast to set in on Friday and last through the rest of Week 17, these wildflowers will stay in bloom longer than in some recent years when temperatures were well above normal. Similarly, some early migrant birds will linger in the Region longer than average. It is best to just embrace what could otherwise be considered another spring setback and instead focus on savoring the riches of the season.
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):
- 6:16 AM/8:11 PM DST (13 Hours, 55 Minutes)
- 4 Hours, 54 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
- Normal High Temperature: 59.6° F Normal Low Temperature: 40.6° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru April 23, 2019: 97
Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:
- The west end of Lake Ontario and the east end of Lake Erie are mostly ice-free.
- The Niagara River carried an abundance of ice flows following removal of the ice boom on April 22.
- The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo remained at 32°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) rose distinctly to 44°F as of April 24, 2019.
- 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 continue to slowly emerge for a few species of wetland ferns (e.g., cinnamon, royal, and sensitive ferns) 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 about a foot tall in wet meadows and the edges of marshes.
- Skunk cabbage is nearly done flowering. Its large skunky-smelling leaves are now evident in forested wetlands.
- The large leaves of false hellebore are also evident in forested wetlands, but this species won’t flower until late May or June.
- Abundant yellow flowers of marsh marigold now dominate some forested and emergent wetlands.
- 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.
- Most other spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out then disappear from view, leaves and all) are blooming abundantly and will reach peak flowering next week, including spring cress, purple cress, yellow trout lily, spring beauty, Carolina spring beauty, early meadow rue, cut-leaved toothwort, two-leaved toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, and squirrel corn. Rich upland forests, especially sites along the Niagara and Onondaga Escarpments, offer the greatest diversity and abundance of these species.
- Similar woodland spring wildflowers that flower now but retain their leaves most of the growing season are also blooming abundantly this week, including northern blue violet, Canada white violet, downy yellow violet, wild ginger, red trillium, large-flowered (white) trillium, and blue cohosh.
- Watch for the leaves of additional woodland wildflowers that will bloom soon: May apple, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Solomon’s seal (smooth and hairy), false Solomon’s seal, large-flowered bellwort, blue phlox, and Virginia waterleaf.
- Wild leek leaves are fully 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 continue to 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 clearly beyond peak, with spent flowers littering the forest floor.
- A patchwork of pastel yellow and green will brighten wetlands, stream edges, and ditches as pussy willow flowers have developed an abundance of pollen-laden stamens.
- Spicebush will continue to flower in some forested wetlands this week. Look for its small yellow blossoms that, en masse, brighten wetland understories.
- 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.
- American elm, eastern hophornbeam, speckled alder, and American hazelnut will continue to flower this week.
- Wind-dispersed pollen of red & silver maples and American elm continue to be the leading allergens in the Buffalo Area at this time, joined by juniper (likely blown in from well outside the Region).
- Tartarian and Morrow’s honeysuckles are leafing-out 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, is also producing 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.
- Various species of caddis flies, stoneflies, midges, and mayflies (e.g., March brown, blue-winged olive, Hendrickson) will emerge from streams, providing a valuable food source for trout and other fish.
- 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.
- First broods of butterflies that overwinter as pupae may emerge this week, in particular spring azure and cabbage white butterflies.
- Watch for American painted lady, painted lady, and red admiral butterflies that occasionally migrate on southerly winds into the Buffalo-Niagara Region at this time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Relatively few 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.
- Some “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 are nesting in a variety of habitats in or near wetlands and other waterbodies. Other waterfowl nesting at this time include American black duck, mallard, wood duck, and hooded merganser.
- Don’t be surprised to see wood ducks perched in trees, near nest cavities, this time of year.
- Great blue herons, black-crowned night-herons, and a few great egrets are nesting in rookeries, both at inland and Great Lakes coastal sites.
- Double-crested cormorants continue to return in large numbers to the Niagara River and Great Lakes.
- Watch for additional migrant and summer resident water birds such as the common loon, pied-billed grebe, horned grebe, American bittern, least bittern, black-crowned night-heron, 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 nesting and some mobile chicks may be present.
- 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.
- 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. Large flights of broad-winged hawks are likely to dominate the hawk flight this week, especially at Braddock Bay. An excellent observation area for seeing hundreds (sometimes thousands) of these migrants in a single day is Lakeside Cemetery in Hamburg.
- 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 continuing 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. Hens are incubating eggs at this time.
- Enjoy viewing dark-eyed juncos and American tree sparrows at bird feeders as most will leave for northern breeding grounds over the next week.
- 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: chimney swift, 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, marsh wren, northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American pipit, belted kingfisher, hermit thrush, gray catbird, brown thrasher, eastern meadowlark, blue-headed vireo, red-winged blackbird (females), rusty blackbird, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, rose-breasted grosbeak, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned 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, black-throated green warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, and northern waterthrush.
- 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.
- Big brown bats will continue to emerge 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.
- Gray squirrels, red squirrels, and southern flying squirrels are caring for recent litters in leaf nests and tree cavities. Eastern chipmunks are doing the same in underground burrows.
- 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 have young in their dens, some of which are old enough to occasionally wander out into view.
- 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.