Unfortunately, I have not had time to prepare weekly Nature Almanac posts for a few months now and the trend is likely to continue another few months – my apologies. Since there is so much consistency with natural happenings during any given week between years (especially this time of year), I decided to start republishing my 2018 posts for folks trying to stay abreast of all that is going on outdoors.
Late summer is a season of abundance for wildlife of the Buffalo-Niagara Region. The availability of hard mast (acorns, beech nuts, hickory nuts, black walnuts) and soft mast (fleshy fruits of black cherry, elderberry, dogwoods, etc.) typically peaks at about this time. In addition, goldenrod and aster nectar and pollen rapidly become an important food source for native pollinator species of insects. Invertebrate and vertebrate animals are plentiful, providing an abundant prey base for predators. Still, many birds, bats, and some insects are already leaving the region to fly south for the winter and countless migrants from Canada pass through our region. This season of abundance and transition supports excellent nature viewing opportunities so get outdoors this week to take full advantage.
Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region 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):
- 6:46 AM/7:41 PM EDT (12 Hours, 55 Minutes)
- 2 Hours, 26 minutes of daylight shorter than at Summer Solstice
- Normal High Temperature: 74.7° F Normal Low Temperature: 56.8° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru September 5, 2018: 2,610
Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:
- The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo was 76°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 74°F as of September 6, 2018.
- Regardless of recent heavy rainfall in parts of the Niagara Frontier Region, most interior wetlands and vernal pools remain void of water in response to continued high evapotranspiration rates. This is typical for our region.
- Similarly, the water level in most ponds is low.
- Streams will continue to exhibit low to moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for locally higher levels if areas experience thunderstorms or other significant rain events.
- Heavy rainfall over the past few weeks over portions of the Region triggered extensive eruptions of mushrooms and other fungi, which will continue this week. Rich woodlands now support an abundance of fungi in an amazing variety of shapes and colors.
- The following species of fungi may be observed this week: giant puffball, chicken of-the-woods, old man of-the-woods, hen of-the-woods, oyster, lobster, fly agaric, jack-o-lantern, pheasant’s back, turkey-tail, stinkhorn, bear’s head tooth fungus, and multiple species (and colors) of coral fungi and bolete, chanterelle, rusulla, and milky (Lactarius spp.) mushrooms.
Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:
- Common reed (Phragmites) will continue to flower this week. This tall (typically >6 feet) grass is an aggressive invasive species most commonly found in wet areas that have recently been disturbed. Phragmites pollen may contribute to allergy symptoms in areas with dense stands of this grass.
- Wood reed-grass will continue to bloom in forest understories.
- Yellow foxtail grass is ripe with large seeds that provide a valuable food source for upland game birds, songbirds, mice, and other wildlife.
- Wool-grass, a native species of bulrush, is now evident in wet meadows and marsh edges as a result of its abundant rusty brown and wooly fruits.
- Broad-leaf and narrow-leaf cattails are laden with fruit in marshes, pond edges, ditches, and other wet habitats. Some fruits are just starting to disintegrate, which will release thousands of tiny fluffy seeds to the wind.
- The beginning of a fall resurgence of woodland wildflower blooming advances this week with the following species in bloom: white wood aster, crooked-stem aster, purple-stemmed aster, lance-leaved aster, rough-stemmed goldenrod, zigzag goldenrod, and blue-stemmed goldenrod.
- The following woodland wildflowers will continue to bloom this week: herb Robert, great blue lobelia, white turtlehead, and white snakeroot.
- Cardinal flower, a vibrant red lobelia, and spotted jewelweed will continue to bloom within and along the edges of swamps. Watch for ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting these flowers to feed on nectar.
- Watch for closed gentian (bottle gentian) and fringed gentian beginning to bloom in wetland habitats.
- Many non-native summer wildflowers continue to bloom in open field and roadside environments, albeit in fading numbers. Among them are chicory, Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot), teasel, birds-foot trefoil, red clover, yellow goatsbeard, black-eyed Susan, butter-and-eggs, and multiple species (and hybrids) of knapweeds.
- Common ragweed continues to bloom in open disturbed areas, disseminating copious amounts of pollen. Wind-dispersed pollen from this native pioneer species is currently the lead allergen in the Buffalo area. A related but non-native species, mugwort, is also blooming at this time and contributing to allergy symptoms.
- Our native open field/woodland edge goldenrods and asters are now flowering in abundance, including Canada goldenrod, tall goldenrod, giant goldenrod, lance-leaved goldenrod, panicled aster, and New England aster. Note that goldenrod pollen is not a common allergen as it is dispersed by insects, not wind. Ragweed is the typical culprit for hay-fever symptoms this time of year.
- Bur marigolds and beggar ticks (genus Bidens) are beginning to bloom in wet meadows, marshes, and swamp edges. The most vibrant species, tickseed sunflower, transforms large areas to yellow at this time.
- Wild sunflowers are continuing to bloom including oxeye (native) and Jerusalem artichoke (non-native).
- Boneset and Joe Pye weed continue to bloom abundantly in wet meadows, supporting large number of pollinator species, including butterflies. Blue vervain may often be found in association with these species.
- An invasive species, purple loosestrife, will continue to flower this week within marshes, wet meadows, and ditches.
- Japanese knotweed, an invasive species that thrives in riparian habitats, reaches peak flowering at this time.
- This is the start of the bur season so be watchful where you (and your dog(s)) walk. Several local plants have adapted a hitch-a-ride strategy that capitalizes on animal disbursal. Those currently in fruit include common burdock, enchanter’s nightshade, tick trefoil, and multiple species of avens and agrimony.
Trees and Shrubs:
- Watch for splashes of fall color on trees, shrubs, and woody vines this week. The earliest leaf changes typically occur with red maple, gray and silky dogwood, staghorn sumac, choke cherry, and Virginia creeper.
- An abundance of hard mast (acorns, hickory nuts, etc.) is currently available, on and off trees, for consumption by many mammals and some birds (e.g., wild turkey, blue jay). Sources include northern red oak, pin oak, bur oak, swamp white oak, American beech, shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, and American basswood.
- Several native trees, shrubs, and vines continue to provide ripe fruit (soft mast) that is an important source of food for a variety of birds and mammals: black cherry, common elderberry, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, red osier dogwood, nannyberry, hawthorn, staghorn sumac, poison ivy, and wild grape.
Insects & Other Invertebrates:
- Spiders webs are strikingly abundant at this time of year, best seen near dawn when accentuated by dew. Watch for large round webs constructed by orb spiders (e.g., yellow garden spider) as well as funnel-shaped webs constructed by funnel weavers (e.g., grass spider).
- Ticks remain active so wear protective clothing and/or repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
- While mosquitoes have been relatively scarce in most areas during dry summer weeks, some species become active during late summer and early autumn starting at about this time. Above average rainfall in some parts of our region may augment this late season emergence so be prepared with protective clothing and/or repellent.
- Various species of caddis flies (e.g., the large case-maker caddisfly) and mayflies (e.g., tricos from the genus Tricorythodes) will continue to emerge from streams, providing a valuable food source for trout and other fish, as well as birds and bats.
- Male dog-day cicadas and other less common species that emerge annually (versus periodic cicadas such as 13- and 17-year cicadas) will continue to “call” frequently during the day and early evening. Their “song” is a high-pitched whining drone that lasts about 15 seconds per song
- Male katydids will continue to “sing” after dark. The most common species is the common true katydid. Listen for its “katy-did” call. Also listen for the short and buzzy “zeee-dik” calls of the less common (but more frequently seen) oblong-winged katydid.
- Cricket song is pervasive this time of year. Fall field crickets emit quintessential cricket chirps both day and night while Carolina ground crickets emit nearly continuous rapid trills, mostly after dark.
- A walk through any grassy field or roadside will encounter large numbers of grasshoppers this time of year. The most common species in our region include Carolina grasshopper and spur-throated grasshopper.
- This is a good time to search for praying mantises as they have grown to nearly full size. Local species include the Carolina mantis (native to North America), praying mantis (native to Europe), and Chinese mantid (native to Asia).
- Hornets such as the eastern yellowjacket and bald-faced hornet are abundant late in the summer, congregating near sources of sugar and other foods to feed thousands of larvae still in their nests.
- An impressive diversity of insects and other invertebrates is closely associated with goldenrods that are currently in bloom, including goldenrod crab spiders, goldenrod soldier beetles, jagged ambush bugs, and goldenrod gall fly (the species responsible for large marble-sized growths on goldenrod stems). Others are commonly found feeding on goldenrod pollen and nectar, including black locust borers, milkweed bugs, honey bees, bumblebees, wasps, hover flies, monarchs and other butterflies.
- Late summer butterflies to watch for this week include eastern tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, black swallowtail, giant swallowtail, monarch, viceroy, great spangled fritillary, red admiral, painted lady, pearl crescent, orange sulphur, clouded sulphur, cabbage white, and silver-spotted skipper.
- Included among the late summer butterflies are individuals of three species that will overwinter as adults and be the first butterflies on the wind next spring: mourning cloak, eastern comma, and question mark butterflies.
- Watch for migrant monarch butterflies moving generally south across our region, often concentrated along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines. Resting congregations may be found in these areas.
- Monarch caterpillars and chrysalises can still be found on common milkweed, swamp milkweed, and butterfly weed plants.
- Wooly bear caterpillars are currently active. This species will overwinter beneath leaf litter and ultimately metamorphose into Isabella tiger moth next spring.
- Late summer dragonfly species (e.g., common green darner, shadow darner, eastern pondhawk, ruby meadowhawk, autumn meadowhawk, black saddlebags, twelve-spotted skimmer, widow skimmer) and damselfly species (e.g., American rubyspot, slender spreadwing, familiar bluet, eastern forktail, fragile forktail, blue-fronted dancer, and powdered dancer) will be active this week.
- Migrant dragonflies such as common green darners, black saddlebags, and twelve-spotted skimmers may congregate along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines.
- Many species of fish migrated to deeper cooler waters in early summer, as inshore waters warmed, and have remained there since water temperatures have not yet moderated.
- Perch typically begin to reform into schools around Labor Day, often at water depths of 40-60 ft or deeper. These schools will move into progressively shallower water as fall advances.
- Large numbers of chinook salmon (AKA king salmon) are beginning to stage off Great Lakes tributaries, preparing to run up the creeks for spawning which usually peaks in mid October. Staging and spawning runs for coho salmon typically peak a couple weeks after chinook. Both species are native to Pacific coast watersheds.
- Historically, Atlantic salmon (AKA landlocked salmon) followed a similar spawning pattern in the Lake Ontario. This native and one-time abundant species was nearly extirpated in the late 1800’s. Restoration efforts have had limited success to date.
Amphibians & Reptiles:
- Northern leopard frogs remain congregated in upland fields and wet meadows at this time, feeding on abundant insect prey found in those habitats.
- American toads are often more active at this time of year, including small to medium sized young-of-the-year toads.
- Listen for occasional single-syllabled “peeps” from spring peepers and, much less commonly, several-syllabled “croaks” of western chorus frogs and raucous calls of gray treefrogs. While the breeding period for these species has long since passed, current daylength is similar to that of the breeding season which may serve as a trigger for vocalizations.
- At this time, eastern (red-spotted) newts leave breeding ponds and metamorphose into red efts, a juvenile terrestrial stage. An eft may remain on land in this stage for two or more years before undergoing a second metamorphose into an aquatic breeding adult.
- Watch for recently hatched common snapping turtles to emerge from nests of eggs laid in late May and early June. In contrast, many midland painted turtle juveniles will overwinter in buried eggs and emerge in late April and early May.
- Midland painted turtles can often be seen basking on logs, especially during cool but sunny periods.
Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:
- Early migrant waterfowl will continue to arrive in the Region. Check ponds, and wetlands for wood duck, American wigeon, northern shoveler, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, pintail, and hooded merganser.
- Late summer is a good time to see vagrant great egrets that appear in wetlands and other waterbodies.
- Watch for migrant 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.
- Shorebird migration will continue this week highlighted by greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, black-bellied plover, semi-palmated plover, American golden plover, spotted sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, killdeer, ruddy turnstone, red knot, sanderling, semi-palmated sandpiper, least sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, white-rumped sandpiper, Baird’s sandpiper, and short-billed dowitcher. Look for them in shallow flooded areas and mudflats where invertebrate prey abound.
Birds of Prey:
- Early migrant hawks such as broad-winged hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and osprey are currently passing through the Buffalo-Niagara Region.
- Listen for barred owls and eastern screech owls calling more frequently this time of year, possibly in response to young-of-the-year dispersing and establishing territories.
- Most young-of-the-year great horned owls still rely on their parents for food. Listen for occasional food-begging calls (hissy squawks) after dark.
Upland Game Birds:
- Wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and ring-necked pheasant numbers are near annual peaks at this time, bolstered by young-of-the-year and supported by an abundance of food.
- Many summer resident ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles are still present in our region. They actively feed at “nectar” and fruit/jelly feeders, respectively, in preparation for migration which typically starts shortly after Labor Day.
- Many American goldfinches are still feeding recently-fledged young. This species postpones breeding until early July through late August to coincide with fruiting of Canada and bull thistles.
- Similarly, many cedar waxwings are still feeding recently-fledged young. The timing of this species’ nesting period coincides with the abundance of fruit from native trees and shrubs in late summer. Many insects are also consumed at this time of year.
- Adult and young-of-the-year neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) are leaving the Buffalo-Niagara Region and Canadian birds are passing through the Region on their way south, including: common nighthawk, chimney swift, least flycatcher, eastern kingbird, yellow-bellied flycatcher alder flycatcher, willow flycatcher, eastern wood peewee, olive-sided flycatcher, red-breasted nuthatch, Philadelphia vireo, red-eyed vireo, veery, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, and scarlet tanager.
- Among these neotropical migrants are the following warbler species: Nashville, Tennessee, magnolia, Blackburnian, northern parula, yellow, black-throated blue, black-throated green, black-and-white, American redstart, Cape May, ovenbird, hooded, bay-breasted, mourning, and Wilson’s warblers.
- The following shorter-distance migrant songbirds are also passing through our region on their journey south: hermit thrush, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, and common yellowthroat.
- Experience migrant passage by listening for songbird contact calls after dark. Monitor movements on Doppler radar or at http://birdcast.info/.
- Small flocks of American robins and eastern bluebirds may be seen this time of year.
- Watch for large flocks of migrant purple martins and swallows, especially along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines. Upwards of 10,000 purple martins have been documented staging on Grass Island (off Buckhorn Island State Park) at about this time in recent years.
- 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 move out of our region and/or pass through our region this week: eastern red, silver-haired, and hoary bats.
- Big brown and little brown bats congregate at hibernation sites at this time, swarming and mating.
- Coyotes are often quite vocal at this time of year.
- Eastern chipmunks, gray squirrels, and southern flying squirrels are actively gathering and storing acorns and other mast for winter.
- Chipmunks are very vocal at this time, emitting territorial “chuck-chuck-chuck” calls.
- Beavers cut more trees this time of year, in preparation for winter. They will cut, transport, and cache cut branches in shallow water near their lodges for wintertime feeding.
- White-tailed deer are beginning to shed their summer coats, transitioning from red-brown to gray-brown pelage. Spots are becoming faint on most fawns.
- Antler growth is nearly complete for white-tailed deer bucks. As the antlers harden, the outer layer of velvet will be shed by rubbing.
Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of the season.