Shorebirds often dominate the tail end of spring bird migration in the Buffalo-Niagara Region, typically peaking during the last week of May. Dozens or even hundreds of migrant shorebirds can be seen at the most productive sites. You may be surprised to hear that over 30 species of shorebirds have been documented in the region. The best locations for seeing migrant shorebirds are typically mudflats bordering large emergent wetlands at sites such as Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and the two adjoining state wildlife management areas. However, wet farm fields can also be unexpectedly productive. Many other spring advances will be visible with the Region’s plants and animals this week.
Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region this fourth 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):
- 5:44 AM/8:41 PM DST (14 Hours, 57 Minutes)
- 5 Hours, 56 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice
- Normal High Temperature: 69.0° F Normal Low Temperature: 50.1° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru May 22, 2019: 246
Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:
- The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo warmed substantially to 49°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) cooled slightly to 45°F as of May 23, 2019.
- Water levels in interior wetlands and vernal pools have started to drop noticeably in response to high evapotranspiration rates resulting from relatively high air temperatures and the rapid leafing-out of trees and shrubs.
- Streams will exhibit moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for locally higher levels if the area experiences thunderstorms or other significant rain events.
- Watch for early species of fungi such as scarlet cup, pheasant’s back, morel, mica cap, common mycena, and oyster mushrooms.
Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:
- Fern fiddleheads (furled leaf fronds coiled like the scroll of a violin head) will finish unfurling this week for most fern species.
- Watch for field horsetails growing in wet areas, resembling small pine seedlings, with fertile stems releasing an abundance of spores.
- A few species of wetland sedges (e.g., tussock & awl-fruited sedges) and upland sedges (e.g., Pennsylvania & plantain-leaved sedges) will continue to flower this week, well ahead of most grass species.
- Sweet vernal grass will begin to flower this week, the first relatively common species of grass to do so. It is a non-native cool season grass.
- New growth of broad- and narrow-leaf cattails in marshes continues to rapidly overtake last year’s brown cattail stems.
- The following woodland wildflowers will be in bloom this week: Jack-in-the-pulpit, May-apple, Solomon’s seal (smooth and hairy), false Solomon’s seal, large-flowered bellwort, blue phlox, Canada mayflower, white baneberry, red baneberry, Virginia waterleaf, foam flower, herb Robert, and wild columbine.
- The rose-purple flowers of wild geranium can now be found in woods and meadows.
- 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.
- Cuckoo flower will continue to bloom in wet meadows and along the edges of swamps and marshes.
- Wild strawberry will continue to blossom this week. Make a mental note of their locations so you can plan to return in June to enjoy the fruits.
- Another invasive species, garlic mustard, will continue to flower this week, primarily in upland forests.
- The abundant pale blue flowers of forget-me-not are evident in ditches, stream edges, and other wet places. The most common species, Myosotis scorpioides, is non-native.
- Yellow rocket (AKA winter cress) will continue to flower in fallow farm fields and road edges this week. Profuse flowering of this non-native mustard completely transforms some fields to yellow.
Trees and Shrubs:
- Leaf-out of trees and shrubs will essentially be completed by the end of this week for most species (excluding ashes, hickories, and walnuts).
- Watch for the showy flowers of cucumber magnolia to start blooming this week – they flower very briefly. Use binoculars as necessary.
- American beech, shagbark hickory, and bitternut hickory will continue to flower this week, ultimately producing hickory nuts that will be an important component of our region’s mast crop this fall.
- Wind-dispersed pollen of oaks, birches (e.g., yellow birch, American hornbeam), and ashes (e.g., green & white) continue to be the leading allergens in the Buffalo Area.
- Several native fruit-producing trees and shrubs will continue to flower this week: black cherry, choke cherry, black chokeberry, red elderberry, nannyberry, and hawthorn.
- Tartarian honeysuckle, an invasive non-native shrub that has infested many woodland habitats in our region, will continue to flower later this week. Its flowers have a strong sweet fragrance.
- Red and silver maple trees are rapidly producing a crop of samaras, “helicopter” fruits that will flutter to the ground starting this week. This “soft mast” is an important spring food source for a variety of animals including squirrels, chipmunks, and wild turkeys.
- Quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, and various willows will continue to release cotton-like fluff and seeds this week, although nothing close to the volume of cottonwood fluff that will fill the air in early June.
Insects & Other Invertebrates:
- Ticks are now active so wear protective clothing and/or repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
- Blackflies will continue to be active in some areas, creating an annoyance for outdoors people.
- Mosquitoes will continue to swarm and will likely start to bite (more accurately, they suck) this week. Wear protective clothing and/or repellent.
- 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, Hendrickson) will continue to emerge from streams, providing a valuable food source for trout and other fish, as well as birds and bats.
- First broods of butterflies that overwinter as pupae will continue to emerge this week, likely including eastern tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, black swallowtail, giant swallowtail, viceroy, white admiral, little wood satyr, pearl crescent, orange sulphur, clouded sulphur, and cabbage white.
- Watch for early migrant monarch butterflies to start reaching the Buffalo-Niagara Region this week.
- Early emergence dragonfly species (e.g., eastern pondhawk, four-spotted skimmer, common baskettail, common whitetail) and damselfly species (e.g., eastern forktail, fragile forktail, familiar bluet) will be active this week.
- Muskellunge may still be concentrated in vegetated shallows for spawning.
- Lake sturgeon are moving into spawning habitats within the Great Lakes and Upper & Lower Niagara River.
- Walleye and yellow perch will continue to move into shallow water areas of the Great Lakes to spawn.
- Smallmouth bass will continue to migrate from Lakes Erie and Ontario into tributary streams, harbors, and bays in preparation for spawning.
- As water temperatures in ponds and inland lakes warm, largemouth bass, sunfish (including bluegill and pumpkinseed), and black crappie will move into shallow water in preparation for spawning.
- Rainbow darters and Iowa darters will be preparing to spawn in riffles and shallow areas of streams. Male darters are ornately colored at this time of year.
Amphibians & Reptiles:
- A few spring peepers and American toads (and possibly western chorus frogs) will continue their breeding calls this week, especially if we receive substantial rainfall.
- Egg masses and tadpoles of the above listed species can be found in breeding pools.
- The raucous calls of gray treefrogs (similar in quality to red-bellied woodpecker calls) will continue this week.
- Green frogs and bullfrogs will continue to call from ponds and semi/permanent wetlands this week.
- Watch for breeding clusters of northern water snakes around the edges of ponds and wetlands.
Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:
- Goslings and ducklings of the following waterfowl species can now be seen in or near wetlands and other waterbodies: Canada goose, mallard, American black duck, wood duck, and hooded merganser.
- Great blue herons, great egrets, and black-crowned night-herons are feeding nestlings at various inland and Great Lakes coastal rookery sites. Watch for frequent flights by adults between the rookery and feeding areas.
- Common terns are now nesting at their typical Great Lakes and Niagara River colony sites.
- Killdeer, spotted sandpipers, American woodcock, and Wilson’s snipe are incubating eggs and/or caring for “fledglings”. The young are precocial, leaving the nest shortly after hatching and well before being capable of flight.
- Shorebird migration may peak this week highlighted by black-bellied plover, semipalmated plover, sanderling, solitary sandpiper, whimbrel, ruddy turnstone, red knot, semipalmated sandpiper, least sandpiper, dunlin, and short-billed dowitcher.
Birds of Prey:
- As the trailing edge of hawk migration passes through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, most year-round and summer resident birds of prey are incubating eggs or feeding nestlings.
- Most great horned owl chicks have fledged from their nests already (typically flightless for a week or more) and some barred owl, eastern screech owl, and red-tailed hawk chicks will 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.
- Some hen wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, and ring-necked pheasants are incubating eggs while others may have precocial young that have already left the nest.
- Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles have returned to our region. They respond well to “nectar” and fruit/jelly feeders and can therefore be attracted close to houses for easy viewing.
- The trailing edge of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) is arriving in or passing through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, including: black- and yellow-billed cuckoos, common nighthawk, Acadian flycatcher, alder flycatcher, willow flycatcher, Philadelphia vireo, gray-cheeked thrush, and Swainson’s thrush.
- Among these late neotropical migrants will be the following colorful warbler species: blue-winged, golden-winged, Tennessee, magnolia, Blackburnian, cerulean, bay-breasted, blackpoll, mourning, Wilson’s, and Canada.
- 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/.
- This is the peak of the songbird nesting season. Watch for nests as well as bird behaviors that suggest they are nesting nearby (e.g., nest defense or distraction displays such as a killdeer’s broken-wing spectacle). Get up early to witness dawn chorus, the boisterous cacophony of bird song that peaks even before the sun rises.
- Most year-round resident songbird species (e.g., mourning dove, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker) have already fledged young.
- Most short-distance migrants (e.g., northern flicker, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, American robin, song sparrow) are well along with raising nestlings and may have already fledged young. One notable exception is the American goldfinch which postpones breeding to coincide with fruiting of Canada and bull thistle in early July.
- In contrast, most long-distance migrants (e.g., alder flycatcher, ruby-throated hummingbird, wood thrush, scarlet tanager) are just establishing territories, nest building, or incubating eggs.
- 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).
- 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 hoary bats.
- Watch for young gray squirrels, eastern chipmunks, and woodchucks out-and-about. They grow rapidly and will soon be close to adult sized.
- Beavers give birth to kits at about this time. Typical litter size is 2 to 5.
- Many young eastern cottontail rabbits have already left their nests. Two more litters to go.
- Many coyote, red fox, and gray fox pups are now venturing out of their dens, as are raccoon and striped skunk.
- White-tailed deer typically give birth starting this week. Watch for very young fawns lying motionless in concealed (or not so well concealed) locations.
- White-tailed deer will continue to shed their winter coats this week, transitioning from gray-brown to red-brown pelage. Antler growth is now evident on bucks.
- While uncommon, black bears are most frequently encountered in Buff-Niagara area in late spring and early summer when yearling males from the Southern Tier disperse.
Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of the season.