May 7-13, 2019 (Week 19 of 52): Neotropical Migrant Songbird Diversity and Abundance May Peak this Week

Southerly winds early in Week 19 continued to carry neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) into the Buffalo-Niagara Region, along with tree bats that winter to the south. Spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that flower fleetingly before trees leaf-out) continue to bloom this week in the Region. Many other spring advances will be visible with the Region’s plants and animals.

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):

  • 5:57 AM/8:27 PM DST (14 Hours, 30 Minutes)
  • 5 Hours, 29 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 64.7° F  Normal Low Temperature: 45.4° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru May 8, 2019: 155

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo rose slightly to 37°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) rose slightly to 43°F as of May 9, 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, mica cap, morels, and false morels.

Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:

  • Fiddleheads (furled leaf fronds coiled like the scroll of a violin head) will continue to slowly emerge for most fern species this week.
  • Watch for field horsetail growing in wet areas, resembling a small pine seedling and bearing fertile fronds that produce spores.
  • A few species of wetland sedges (e.g., tussock & awl-fruited sedges) and upland sedges (e.g., Pennsylvania & plantain-leaved sedges) will flower this week, well ahead of most grass species.

Wildflowers:

  • Skunk cabbage is 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 continue to dominate some forested and emergent wetlands.
  • Some spring ephemeral wildflowers (woodland species that bloom fleetingly before trees leaf-out then disappear from view, leaves and all) will continue to bloom 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 continue to bloom 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 and some early flowers 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.
  • Cuckoo flower will start to bloom in wet meadows and along the edges of swamps and marshes.
  • Virginia bluebells may begin to bloom this week, primarily in floodplain forests. Peak blooming is more likely next week.
  • 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, continues to bloom this week. Look for its yellow, dandelion-like flowers.
  • Lesser celandine, an invasive non-native species of buttercup, continues to bloom in some areas this week. It is most common in floodplain forest habitats.
  • Another invasive species, garlic mustard, will begin to flower this week primarily in upland forests.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Serviceberry trees and shadbush shrubs will continue to bloom in forest understory and edge habitats.
  • Eastern cottonwood will continue to flower this week. Its cotton-like fluff and seeds will be fill the air in early June.
  • Wind-dispersed pollen of birches (e.g., yellow birch, American hornbeam), maples (e.g., sugar maple, box-elder), and ashes (green & white) are currently the leading allergens in the Buffalo Area.
  • Red oak (e.g., northern red oak, pin oak) and white oak (e.g., white oak, swamp white oak, bur oak) trees will flower this week, the first step in producing acorns that will be an important component of our region’s mast crop in Fall 2019 and 2020. Acorns of white oak species mature in one year but it takes two years for acorns of red oak species to mature.
  • Most trees and shrubs have started to produce small leaves. Leaf-out will be mostly completed over the next two weeks.

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, eastern comma, and question mark butterflies (which overwinter as adults) will continue to be active this week.
  • First broods of butterflies that overwinter as pupae will continue to emerge this week, including spring azure, eastern tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, black swallowtail, 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 continue to migrate back into our Region from the South this week, typically the earliest dragonflies to be seen here.

Fish:

  • Muskellunge will continue to concentrate in vegetated shallows for spawning.
  • Walleye and yellow perch will continue to move into shallow water areas to spawn.
  • Some smallmouth bass may begin migrating from Lakes Erie and Ontario into tributary streams, harbors, and bays in preparation for spawning.
  • Large schools of alewife will continue to move from cold depths of Lakes Erie and Ontario to nearshore areas in preparation for spawning.

Amphibians & Reptiles:

  • Breeding choruses of spring peepers, western chorus frogs, northern leopard frogs, and American toads will continue this week.
  • Egg masses and tadpoles of the above listed species as well as wood frog can be found in breeding pools.
  • The raucous calls of gray treefrogs (similar in quality to red-bellied woodpecker calls) will join the fray.
  • 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:

  • Most pairs of Canada geese now have goslings. Watch for family groups swimming and feeding in and near ponds and wetlands.
  • Most summer resident ducks are nesting at this time, including American black duck, mallard, wood duck, blue-winged teal, 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.
  • Common terns have returned to their Great Lakes and Niagara River nesting colony sites.
  • Caspian terns, the largest of the tern species to commonly occur in the region, may still be observed along the Niagara River and Lakes Erie and Ontario this week.
  • Watch for highly mobile killdeer chicks as well as broken-wing displays by adults attempting to lure predators and/or people away from their young.
  • Male American woodcock and Wilson’s snipe will continue to perform their elaborate aerial displays designed to attract mates.
  • Early migrant shorebirds will continue to arrive in our area this week, including black-bellied plover, greater and lesser yellowlegs, pectoral sandpiper, least sandpiper, semi-palmated plover, solitary 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 may continue 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 summer and year-round resident birds of prey in our region are actively nesting.
  • Most great horned owl chicks have fledged from their nests already (typically flightless for a week or more) and some barred and eastern screech owl chicks may fledge this week.

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. Many 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. Many 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. Many hens are incubating eggs or already have chicks.

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 feeders for summer resident species such as chipping sparrow as well as spring migrant species such as purple finch, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, white-throated sparrow, and white-crowned sparrow. Be sure to include sunflower seed in feeders and place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract many of these migrants.
  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles have returned to our region, so have your feeders ready (May 1st is typically a good target date).
  • 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 wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) that started last week will continue this week. Watch for species such as 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.
  • The following neotropical migrant songbirds that typically mark the beginning of the end of spring migration will arrive in the region this week: eastern wood-pewee, Philadelphia vireo, red-eyed vireo, veery, gray-cheeked thrush, Swainson’s thrush, and indigo bunting.
  • 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 neotropical migrant warblers that typically occur toward the tail-end of spring migration may start to arrive in the region this week: golden-winged, Tennessee, Cerulean, bay-breasted, blackpoll, mourning, Wilson’s, and Canada.
  • Bobolinks will return from as far away as Argentina to grassland nesting sites in our region this week. Listen for their distinctive bubbly song that resembles R2D2 from Star Wars.
  • 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, field sparrow, savannah 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/.
  • 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:

  • Big brown bats have emerged from hibernacula in local attics etc. and be can now be seen foraging for insects.
  • The following tree bats, which migrate south for the winter, will continue 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. Woodchucks and eastern chipmunks are doing the same in underground burrows.
  • Beavers give birth to kits at about this time. Typical litter size is 2 to 5.
  • 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. Many young rabbits have already left their nests.
  • Coyotes and red & gray fox have young, some still in dens while some 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 couple weeks.
  • White-tailed deer are shedding their winter coats now, transitioning from gray-brown to red-brown pelage.

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

Chuck Rosenburg

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