Unfortunately, I am currently too short on time to prepare weekly Nature Almanac posts. However, since there is so much consistency with natural happenings during any given week between years (especially this time of year), I am republishing the following 2018 post for folks trying to stay abreast of all that is going on outdoors at this time.
Cooler than average temperatures will advance fall leaf color to a peak across most of the Buffalo-Niagara Region late this week, particularly in upland forest habitats dominated by sugar maple. Forests dominated by oaks and American beech will remain mostly green. This is an excellent time to explore forest understory habitats to experience bright leaf colors, both on trees/shrubs and on the ground, as well as fall-colored ferns and grasses, late season woodland asters and goldenrods, and an impressive variety of fungi (both in color and form). Cool temperatures will limit insect activity, which will be especially pronounced with the loss of cricket and katydid “calls” after dark. However, many species will reactivate when temperatures normalize. Similarly, activity by herptiles (reptiles and amphibians) will be limited, but this is a good time to spot turtles and snakes basking in sunny sites.
Also of note this week, several species of trout and salmon have started their annual spawning runs up Great Lakes tributaries and the Lower Niagara River. Migrant and winter-resident waterfowl are arriving in the Region in good numbers within the Great Lakes/Niagara River and especially within inland wetlands and ponds. A good abundance and fair diversity of short-distance migrant songbirds (e.g., kinglets, blackbirds, sparrows) will continue to visit and pass through the Region. Several species of mammals will enter hibernation this week, and white-tailed deer will begin the annual rut with zeal.
Below are highlights of what you can expect to find outdoors in the Buffalo-Niagara Region this week. Those in bold/italics are new or substantially revised 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):
- 7:33 AM/6:27 PM EDT (10 Hours, 54 Minutes)
- 4 Hours, 27 minutes of daylight shorter than at Summer Solstice
- Normal High Temperature: 58.1° F Normal Low Temperature: 41.9° F
- Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru October 14, 2018: 3159
- Light frost is likely this week.
Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:
- The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo dropped to 63°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) dropped to 62°F as of October 15, 2018.
- Water levels in most interior wetlands and vernal pools remain low but continue to rise in response to recent rainfall and reduced evapotranspiration rates.
- Similarly, the water level in most ponds is low but continuing to rise.
- Most streams will exhibit moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for locally higher levels if areas experience significant rain events.
- Eruptions of mushrooms and other fungi will continue this week. Rich woodlands continue to support an abundance of fungi in an amazing variety of shapes and colors.
- The following species of fungi may be observed in rich woodlands this week: giant puffball, chicken-of-the-woods, hen-of-the-woods, oyster, honey, fly agaric, hemlock varnish shelf, bear’s head tooth fungus, bearded tooth, and multiple species (and colors) of coral fungi and bolete and chanterelle mushrooms.
- Shaggy mane mushrooms can be found in lawns and along wood chip trails, often in fairy rings.
Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:
- An often overlooked fall color change occurs with ferns in the forest understory. The following ferns often exhibit striking color changes, albeit briefly, at this time: sensitive, New York, lady, bracken, royal, cinnamon, interrupted, and ostrich ferns.
- A number of grass species will also exhibit showy color changes this week, especially rice cut-grass, white grass, and witch grass found in wetlands and other poorly drained areas.
- Wool-grass, a native species of bulrush, is still evident in wet meadows and marsh edges as a result of its abundant rusty brown and wooly fruits.
- Broad-leaf and narrow-leaf cattail stems are now golden brown and 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.
- A few species of woodland wildflower will continue to bloom this week: white wood aster, rough-stemmed goldenrod, zigzag goldenrod, blue-stemmed goldenrod, and herb Robert.
- Watch for bright orange (but acrid) fruits of Jack-in-the-pulpit as well as white baneberry’s “dolls-eye” fruits (poisonous) in rich woodlands.
- One non-native summer wildflower, butter-and-eggs, will continue to bloom commonly in open field and roadside environments this week.
- While most field goldenrod species have faded to brown, a few aster species continue to bloom: heath aster, calico aster, crooked-stem aster, and New England aster.
- Pokeweed, a native herbaceous plant found in disturbed sites, is continuing to produce large volumes of fleshy purple fruits relished by birds and small mammals.
- Lady’s thumb and other smartweeds will continue to bloom in swamps and marshes.
- Japanese knotweed, an invasive species that thrives in riparian habitats, is currently exhibiting brilliant yellow leaves – one positive feature of this aggressive alien species.
- Similarly, golden yellow leaves of native common milkweed, swamp milkweed, and Indian hemp can be seen in old fields and wet meadows.
- Common milkweed pods are bursting and releasing hundreds of seeds to the wind, each equipped with fluffy “parachutes” to aid dispersal.
- This is 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, cocklebur, and multiple species of bur marigold, avens, and agrimony.
Trees and Shrubs:
- Fall leaf color will reach its peak across most of the Region late this week, particularly in upland forest habitats dominated by sugar maple. While some species of trees, shrubs, and woody vines have already peaked and dropped some or all their leaves, leaf color will peak in most upland forest habitats (excluding those dominated by oaks and American beech).
- The following trees and shrubs are exhibiting bright red leaf color: some sugar maple trees, cranberry viburnum, and maple-leaf viburnum.
- Many shrubland areas and forest edges continue to be colored reddish-purple at this time as a result of the abundance of Region’s three species of dogwood (gray, silky, and red-osier) which are now joined by similar leaf colors of arrow-wood, nannyberry, and blackberry.
- Brilliant orange leaves can be now be seen on many sugar maples, as well as American hornbeam, serviceberry, and shadbush.
- The following trees and shrubs display bright gold and yellow leaf color: silver maple, some sugar maples, American basswood, quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, black walnut, shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, tulip poplar, sassafras, witch-hazel, and spicebush.
- Wind and rain have stripped many or all leaves from the following tree, shrub, and woody vine species: eastern cottonwood, American elm, box-elder, black cherry, green ash, white ash, red maple, staghorn sumac, poison ivy, wild grape, and Virginia creeper.
- Eastern white pine and red pine will continue to shed “golden oldie” needles as brand new green needles take their place.
- Many native pines are also dropping seeds from cones at this time.
- Watch closely for stringy yellow petals of witch-hazel flowers. Also note the presence of nearly ripe (but woody) fruits from last year’s flowers.
- An abundance of hard mast (acorns, hickory nuts, etc.) continues to be 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, shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, black walnut, and American hornbeam.
- 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: cucumber magnolia, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, red osier dogwood, nannyberry, arrow-wood, cranberry viburnum, spicebush, winterberry, hawthorn, staghorn sumac, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and wild grape.
- In addition, the following non-native species provide ripe fruit (soft mast) consumed by wildlife: multiflora rose, autumn olive, and common buckthorn.
Insects & Other Invertebrates:
- Adult stage ticks become especially abundant in early October and remain active as long as temperatures stay above freezing and the ground is not covered with snow. Therefore, be especially careful to wear protective clothing and/or repellent, and do tick-checks after every outing.
- Cricket song will continue (albeit with reduced intensity) during brief warmer periods this week, primarily by fall field crickets and Carolina ground crickets.
- 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 still a good time to search for praying mantises as they have grown to full size. Local species include the Carolina mantis (native to North America), praying mantis (native to Europe), and Chinese mantid (native to Asia).
- Late season butterflies to watch for this week include monarch, orange sulphur, clouded sulphur, and cabbage white.
- Included among the late season 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 a few straggler monarch butterflies to migrate south across our region, often concentrated along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines.
- Wooly bear caterpillars will continue to be active. This species will overwinter beneath leaf litter and ultimately metamorphose into Isabella tiger moth next spring.
- Late season dragonfly species (e.g., common green darner, shadow darner, autumn meadowhawk, and black saddlebags) will remain active this week.
- A few migrant dragonflies such as common green darners and black saddlebags may still be found along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines.
- Most species of fish migrated to deeper cooler waters in early summer, as inshore waters warmed. Many have started moving into shallower areas and to feed more heavily as water temperatures have moderated including muskellunge, walleye, and smallmouth bass.
- Perch typically begin to regroup into schools around Labor Day, often at water depths of 40-60 feet or deeper. These schools are now moving into progressively shallower water as fall advances.
- Large numbers of chinook salmon (AKA king salmon) are running up Great Lakes tributary streams and the Lower Niagara River for spawning, which usually peaks in mid-October. 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.
- Another native species, lake trout, is beginning to spawn in shallow rocky/gravelly shoals of the Great Lakes and Lower Niagara River.
- Steelhead are also running up Great Lakes tributaries and the Lower Niagara River at this time. Spawning does not occur until late winter and early spring. 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.
- Native brook trout (our state fish species) are preparing to spawn in riffles and shallow areas of small headwater streams starting later this month. Male brook trout develop a hook on the lower jaw and are ornately colored at this time of year.
- Brown trout are beginning to run up Great Lakes tributaries and the Lower Niagara River. Spawning typically occurs from late October to December in these tributaries. In headwater streams, where brown trout have been stocked, they typically spawn a little later than brook trout. Brown trout were introduced from Europe.
Amphibians & Reptiles:
- Northern leopard frogs have moved from foraging areas in upland fields and wet meadows to flooded wetlands and ponds where they will hibernate, similar to most other aquatic species of frogs (e.g., green frog, bullfrog).
- American toads will still remain active in upland environments, at least during relatively warm periods.
- Listen for occasional single-syllabled “peeps” from spring peepers during relatively warm periods.
- This is a good time of year to inspect areas around outdoor lights for spring peepers and gray treefrogs that feed on moths and other insect attracted to the lights. Both species have suction-cup adaptations that allow them to cling to windows and siding.
- Plethodon salamanders, such as the red-backed and slimy salamanders, mate at this time. Females lay eggs during spring in rotting wood and duff.
- Eastern garter and other snake species remain active at this time but will soon enter hibernation. Watch for them basking in sunny spots.
- Midland painted turtles can still be seen basking on logs, especially during cool but sunny periods.
Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:
- Early migrant waterfowl and related waterbirds will continue to arrive in the Region. Check ponds and wetlands for pied-billed grebe, mallard, American black duck, wood duck, American wigeon, northern shoveler, gadwall, ruddy duck, ring-necked duck, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, northern pintail, hooded merganser, and American coot.
- Watch and listen for migrant Canada goose flocks passing overhead. Some will stop-over in our region to rest and feed on their journey south.
- This is a good time to scout for migrant brant resting and feeding in parkland and other open habitats bordering Lakes Erie and Ontario. Brant is a relatively small species of goose that nests in the tundra and into the Arctic Circle.
- The annual buildup of “sea ducks” and similar waterbirds that overwinter in the Great Lakes and Niagara River continues with the arrival of common loon, red-throated loon, red-necked grebe, horned grebe, greater scaup, lesser scaup, canvasback, redhead, common goldeneye, bufflehead, white-winged scoter, surf scoter, black scoter, long-tailed duck, common merganser, and red-breasted merganser.
- Watch for migrant tundra swans to start passing over and congregating along the upper Niagara River.
- Early fall continues to be a good time to see vagrant great egrets that appear in wetlands and other waterbodies, sometimes several at a time.
- Bonaparte’s gulls will continue to enter the region at this time, using the Niagara River as a significant stop-over feeding area along their migration route south. This species will reach its peak fall numbers in the region in November and December when thousands may be observed along the Niagara River.
- This is the time to start watching for rare species of gulls such as the little gull, Sabine’s gull, and lesser black-backed gull among more common gulls such as recent arrivals of Bonaparte’s and greater black-backed gulls. Such rarities add to the remarkable diversity of gull species – 19 species total – that have been observed along the Niagara River and bordering Great Lakes. The peak time is typically between mid-November and mid-January.
Birds of Prey:
- Migrant turkey vultures and hawks are continuing to pass through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, including red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, red-shouldered hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcon, and northern harrier.
- Winter resident raptors, in particular northern harriers and rough-legged hawks, will begin to arrive in the region, especially in areas with extensive open grassland habitat.
- Northern saw-whet owls are migrating through the Region in large numbers at this time, as documented by Project Owlnet and ebird.
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.
- Watch bird feeders for arrivals of migrant and overwintering feeder birds such as red-breasted nuthatch, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, song sparrow, American tree sparrow, purple finch, and pine siskin. Place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract many of these migrants.
- The following “short-distance” migrant songbirds are now passing through our region on their journey south: brown creeper, red-breasted nuthatch, golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, eastern phoebe, winter wren, yellow-bellied sapsucker, American pipit, hermit thrush, yellow-rumped warbler, rusty blackbird, eastern meadowlark, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, swamp sparrow, American tree sparrow, purple finch, and pine siskin.
- The northern shrike, a predatory songbird that breeds in Canada and Alaska, is now starting to arrive in the Region. Watch for them on prominent perches overlooking open and brushy habitats.
- Small flocks and family groups of eastern bluebirds and northern flickers may be seen this time of year, as well as small to medium sized flocks of American robins.
- Watch for large flocks of blackbirds consisting of red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, and/or European starling.
- Small flocks of horned larks are now being joined in open farmland and other tundra-like habitats by snow buntings and Lapland longspurs. Many will overwinter in our region.
- Experience migrant passage by listening for songbird contact calls after dark. Monitor movements on Doppler radar or at http://birdcast.info/.
- 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).
- Two species of tree bats, silver-haired and hoary bats, will continue to move out of our region and/or migrate through our region this week.
- Big brown, little brown, and eastern pipistrelle (tri-colored) bats have entered hibernation or will do so very soon. Most woodchucks have also started their winter hibernation. Two other species of true hibernators, meadow jumping mouse and woodland jumping mouse, have likely begun hibernation.
- Eastern chipmunks, gray squirrels, and southern flying squirrels continue to actively gather and store acorns and other mast for winter.
- Chipmunks are very vocal at this time, emitting territorial “chuck-chuck-chuck” calls.
- Flying squirrels are also vocal now, emitting high-pitched chirps and squeaks after dark. Listen for them calling from oak, hickory, and American beech trees.
- White-footed mice and deer mice prepare for winter by building nests in woodpecker holes, bird houses, and squirrel leaf-nests. Some rehab old bird nests by adding a roof and insulation. These mice often cross paths with homeowners this time of year as they seek shelter in sheds, garages, and houses – along with non-native house mice.
- 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 essentially done shedding their summer coats, transitioning from red-brown to gray-brown pelage. Spots are now faint on most fawns.
- Continue to watch for white-tailed deer buck rubs. Bucks actively rub saplings and small trees, depositing scent from forehead glands.
- Bucks are also making scrapes by pawing away leaves to expose soil, then urinating over the scraped area to deposit scent from tarsal glands. They typically mouth and rub their antlers on an overhanging branch, depositing even more scent.
- Deer courtship typically begins in mid-October. Does become more active as they start estrus and bucks are often seen following them. As a result, the frequency of deer-car collisions increases sharply during the rut, from mid-October through December.
Be sure to find an opportunity to get outside this week to discover signs of the season.