April 30-May 6, 2019 (Week 18 of 52): Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers and Neotropical Migrant Songbirds Dominate this Week

Spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that flower fleetingly before trees leaf-out) will continue to bloom abundantly this week in the Buffalo-Niagara Region. Also, the first substantial wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) reached the Buffalo-Niagara Region on southerly winds earlier this week. This weekend will be an excellent time to search for both natural attractions as flowering will persist during the forecasted seasonal temperatures and stop-over migrants will actively feed to fuel up for their next push north. Many other spring advances with the Region’s plants and animals will also be visible.

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):

  • 6:06 AM/8:19 PM DST (14 Hours, 13 Minutes)
  • 5 Hours, 12 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 62.3° F   Normal Low Temperature: 43.0° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru May 1, 2019: 126

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Niagara River continues to carry an abundance of ice flows following removal of the ice boom on April 22.
  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo rose distinctly to 36°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) fell slightly to 42°F as of May 2, 2019.
  • Inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools are near annual high-water levels.
  • Streams will continue with moderate to high flow levels this week, with the potential for high levels if the Region experiences thunderstorms and/or other heavy precipitation.

Fungi:

  • Watch for early species of fungi such as scarlet cup, pheasant’s back, and morel.

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.

Wildflowers:

  • 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.
  • Most other spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out then disappear from view, leaves and all) will continue to bloom abundantly this 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 will continue to bloom abundantly this week, including northern blue violet, Canada white violet, downy yellow violet, smooth 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:

  • Sugar maple trees will reach peak flowering this week, as evidenced by a burst of pastel green color in leafless sugar bushes and similar upland forests.
  • Box-elder and green & white ash will continue to flower this week.
  • Spicebush will continue to flower in some forested wetlands this week. Look for its small yellow blossoms that, en masse, brighten wetland understories.
  • Serviceberry trees and shadbush shrubs may begin to bloom in forest understory and edge habitats later this week.
  • Eastern cottonwood may begin to flower this week. Its cotton-like fluff and seeds will be fill the air in early June.
  • Wind-dispersed pollen of maples (red, silver, sugar, and box-elder) and ashes (green & white) will 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 will continue to leaf-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 leafing-out rapidly this week.

Insects & Other Invertebrates:

  • Ticks are now active so wear protective clothing and/or repellent and do tick-checks after every outing.
  • Blackflies may become active in some areas, creating an annoyance for outdoors people.
  • 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 continue to emerge from streams, providing a valuable food source for trout and other fish as well as some birds and bats.
  • Watch for honeybees and native pollinators such as bumblebees and hover flies visiting newly blooming flowers this week.
  • 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.

Fish:

  • Northern pike are concentrated in tributary streams, ditches, and shoreline wetlands for spawning.
  • Muskellunge may start to concentrate in vegetated shallows 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 can still be found in Great Lakes tributary spawning streams. 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.
  • 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:

  • 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.
  • 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 toms can be heard gobbling as they try to attract mates. Spring turkey season runs from May 1 to 31 so don’t be fooled by artificial gobbles as hunters try to call in territorial toms. Some hens are already incubating eggs.
  • Listen for drumming displays by male ruffed grouse in the southern part of the Buffalo-Niagara region as well as the Alabama Swamps area. They display from the tops of logs to attract mates. They beat their wings at an increasingly rapid rate, sounding like an engine trying to start. Some hens are already incubating eggs.
  • 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.

Songbirds:

  • Now that winter feeder birds such as dark-eyed junco and American tree sparrowsback, scaup, common goldeneye, common merganser, long-tailed duck have mostly left the region, watch for summer resident species such as chipping sparrow as well as spring migrant species such as purple finch, rose-breasted grosbeak, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and fox sparrow. Be sure to place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract many of 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).
  • The first substantial wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) finally reached the Buffalo-Niagara Region earlier this week, including chimney swift, ruby-throated hummingbird, least flycatcher, great-crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, yellow-throated vireo, warbling vireo, cliff swallow, wood thrush, veery, scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, bobolink, and Baltimore oriole.
  • Among the neotropical migrants are the following colorful warbler species: blue-winged, Nashville, northern parula, yellow, chestnut-sided, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, Blackburnian, palm, black-and-white, American redstart, ovenbird, northern waterthrush, Louisiana waterthrush, and hooded warblers.
  • The following shorter-distance migrant songbirds are returning to, passing through, and/or lingering in the region: yellow-bellied sapsucker, purple martin, house wren, marsh wren, golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush, gray catbird, blue-headed vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, common yellowthroat, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, field sparrow, savannah sparrow, fox sparrow, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, Lincoln’s sparrow, rusty blackbird, purple finch, and pine siskin.
  • Experience migrant passage by listening for songbird contact calls after dark. Monitor movements on Doppler radar or at http://birdcast.info/. Track average bird arrival dates compiled by the Buffalo Ornithological Society at http://dates.bosbirds.com/.
  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles have started to return to our region, so have your feeders ready (May 1st is typically a good target date).
  • Most year-round resident songbird species (e.g., mourning dove, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker) are incubating eggs or brooding nestlings.
  • Most short-distance migrants (e.g., northern flicker, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, red-winged blackbird, song sparrow) are establishing territories and initiating nesting. One notable exception is the American goldfinch which postpones breeding to coincide with fruiting of Canada and bull thistle in early July.

Mammals:

  • The last of the true hibernators will emerge this week, including little brown bat, eastern pipistrelle (tri-colored bat), meadow jumping mouse, and woodland jumping mouse.
  • The following tree bats, which migrate south for the winter, will begin to arrive back in our region this week: eastern red, silver-haired, and possibly some hoary bats.
  • 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. Some young rabbits have already left their nests.
  • Coyotes and red & gray fox have young in their dens, some of which are old enough to occasionally wander out into view.
  • Raccoons, striped skunk, and bobcat are also caring for young at this time.
  • White-tailed deer will continue to travel in herds. They typically stay together until shortly before fawns are born, starting over the next few weeks.

Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of spring.

Chuck Rosenburg

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One thought on “April 30-May 6, 2019 (Week 18 of 52): Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers and Neotropical Migrant Songbirds Dominate this Week

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