December 3-9, 2018 (Week 49 of 52): Tremendous Numbers of Ducks Overwinter on the Great Lakes and Niagara River

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.

A little-known natural phenomenon associated with the Buffalo-Niagara Region is the tremendous concentration of ducks that overwinter on the Great Lakes and Niagara River. In fact, our Region serves as one of the most important water­fowl wintering areas in the northeastern United States, especially for diving ducks. Already, early in December, thousands of diving ducks (e.g., canvasback, scaup, common goldeneye, common merganser) and over 300 tundra swans have arrived here from Canada and Midwest Prairie Potholes. Most will spend the winter in our Region. Their ranks will swell to tens-of-thousands later this month, as the majority of wintering ducks typically arrives during December. Total numbers may exceed 100,000 ducks in January and February. For example, a February 2, 2017 winter waterfowl survey from shoreline observation points conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) documented the presence of >110,000 ducks along the Buffalo Waterfront and Upper Niagara River.

Waterfowl are attracted to the Great Lakes and Niagara River during winter months by the extensive areas of open water (i.e., unfrozen) and abundant food resources, both plant and animal. The following species feed mostly on aquatic plants such as eel-grass: canvasback, redhead, and tundra swan. Crustaceans such as crayfish are the primary prey of common goldeneye and long-tailed duck. The following species feed mostly on mollusks such as mussels and aquatic snails: greater and lesser scaup, bufflehead, and white-winged scoter. Common and red-breasted mergansers feed primarily on fish.

The Buffalo Waterfront (both inside and outside the breakwalls) typically supports large and compact rafts (i.e., flocks of ducks floating together) of diving ducks, especially early in the winter before Lake Erie freezes. Rafts of thousands (sometimes tens-of-thousands) of greater scaup, lesser scaup, canvasback, redhead, common goldeneye, bufflehead, and common merganser have been recorded there. Such rafts can often be observed from public viewing areas such as Gallagher Beach State Park, Buffalo Harbor State Park, Erie Basin Marina, and LaSalle Park.

Extensive areas of open water attract large rafts of ducks to the Niagara River throughout the winter, especially when ice forms on Lake Erie and (occasionally) Lake Ontario. Assuming Lake Erie will freeze this winter, as it usually does, large numbers of ducks will move from there to the open waters of the Niagara River creating even more impressive concentrations. The critical open water and food resources provided by the Niagara River for overwintering waterfowl and other waterbirds is a significant reason why the River is listed as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

Large rafts (thousands and sometimes tens-of-thousands) of greater scaup, lesser scaup, canvasback, redhead, common goldeneye, bufflehead, and common merganser can often be seen on the Upper Niagara River during winter months. Fruitful public viewing areas include Aqua Lane Park, Beaver Island State Park, Buckhorn Island State Park, LaSalle Waterfront Park in Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls State Park, and waterfowl overlooks along the Robert Moses Parkway upstream of the falls. Watch for migrant tundra swans that frequently congregate along the upper Niagara River, especially offshore from Beaver Island and Buckhorn Island State Parks and upstream of Niagara Falls. On the Canadian side, pull-offs along the Niagara Parkway between Fort Erie and Niagara Falls offer excellent waterfowl viewing opportunities.

It is well worth a winter visit to Goat Island (within Niagara Falls State Park) to view a particularly amazing feat performed daily by common goldeneye. Scan the rapids above Niagara Falls and you will see individual goldeneye maneuver the rapids, both on and below the water surface, as they forage for crayfish and other prey. How they avoid being dashed against the rocks in those turbulent waters is a wonder! They often come to the surface right above the brink of the falls just to fly back upstream to repeat the performance.

The Lower Niagara River typically supports medium to large rafts (hundreds and sometimes >1,000) of common goldeneye, white-winged scoter, long-tailed duck, common merganser, and red-breasted merganser. When winds gust across Lake Ontario, many more ducks enter the Lower River, upstream to Lewiston and farther. Valuable public viewing areas include the Lewiston Landing Waterfront Park, Joseph Davis State Park boat launch, and Fort Niagara State Park.

The Lewiston Reservoir, which typically freezes by early to mid-January, occasionally serves an important migratory feeding and resting area in late fall and early winter for greater and lesser scaup, as well as canvasback. Rafts of >5,000 scaup and >2,000 canvasback have been recorded there. Viewing areas are limited mostly to Reservoir State Park.

Lake Ontario does not freeze in a typical winter, although shore ice may extend well out into the lake (i.e., 0.5 mile or more) during the dead of winter. Large numbers (hundreds and sometimes >1,000) of the following species can be observed from shoreline overlooks: common goldeneye, white-winged scoter, long-tailed duck, common merganser, and red-breasted merganser. Occasional common loons, red-throated loons, and red-necked grebes may also be seen. It is noteworthy that very large rafts of long-tailed ducks and white-winged scoters often occur well offshore in Lake Ontario, out of sight and beyond NYSDEC survey limits. In addition to scoping out rafts of ducks at various waterfowl concentration areas, some birders choose a good overlook along the Lake Ontario shore (e.g., Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, Wilson Public Pier, Krull Park, and Golden Hill State Park) to observe flights of waterfowl and other waterbirds traveling east and west, close to shore, over an hour or more. Remarkable numbers of the birds listed above can be observed in this manner.

Extensive open water and an abundance of prey attracts other birds to the Great Lakes and Niagara River. Snowy owls frequently feed on ducks and other waterbirds concentrated close to shore. Bald eagles do the same, and also hunt and scavenge fish where open water is found. A few great blue herons and belted kingfishers, two species that mostly leave our Region in winter, can often be found foraging for fish and other prey in these productive habitats. Considering this abundance and diversity of birdlife, open water areas of the Great Lakes and Niagara River can be exciting places to visit during winter months.

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 at https://bnnatureblog.com/nature-sites/site-lists/alphabetical-list/ to find areas to explore in your neighborhood and throughout the Buffalo-Niagara Region.

Average Sunrise/Sunset (Day Length):

  • 7:32 AM/4:41 PM EST (9 Hours, 1 Minutes)
  • 6 Hours, 12 minutes of daylight shorter than at Summer Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 39.1° F  Normal Low Temperature: 27.1° F
  • Lake effect snow is forecast for this week.

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo was 43°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 43°F as of December 5, 2018.
  • Water levels in most interior wetlands and vernal pools is continuing to rise in response to recent precipitation and greatly reduced evapotranspiration rates.
  • Similarly, the water level in many ponds is continuing to rise.
  • Most streams will exhibit moderate flow levels this week.

Fungi:

  • The hard frost/freeze we experienced over the past few weeks extinguished most fungal fruiting bodies. The fungal “roots” (mycelium network) will survive the winter and produce new fruiting bodies during the appropriate season next year. Interestingly, fruiting bodies of some species of fungi (e.g., oyster mushrooms) remain viable during the winter and may disseminate spores during warm periods or in early spring.

Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:

  • The hard frost/freeze we experienced over the past few weeks killed remnant grass, sedge, and rush stems (thus known as a killing frost). The roots of these perennial plants will survive and sprout next spring.
  • Broad-leaf and narrow-leaf cattail fruits continue to disintegrate, releasing thousands of tiny fluffy seeds to the wind.

Wildflowers:

  • The hard frost/freeze we experienced over the past few weeks killed remnant wildflower stems (thus known as a killing frost). Roots and rhizomes of perennial wildflowers will survive and sprout next spring. Seeds of annual wildflowers will do the same.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • While a few northern red and pin oak trees continue to retain some leaves, most dropped them following the hard frost/freeze we experienced over the past few weeks.
  • Many American beech leaves remain clinging to limbs but have now changed to brown. Some beech trees will hold their leaves the rest of the winter.
  • The availability of hard and soft mast is noticeably less abundant now as squirrels, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and other wildlife have consumed a large amount over the past several weeks.
  • Several native trees, shrubs, and vines continue to provide fruit (soft mast) that is an important winter food source for a variety of birds and mammals: winterberry, cranberry viburnum, staghorn sumac, swamp rose, and wild grape.
  • In addition, two non-native species provide fruit (soft mast) consumed by wildlife: multiflora rose and common buckthorn.

Insects & Other Invertebrates:

  • The hard frost/freeze we experienced over the past few weeks killed most adult insects and other invertebrates that have not migrated or entered hibernation. The vast majority of insect species in our Region over-winter as eggs or larvae/nymphs, although some species over-winter as adults.

Fish:

  • Many species of fish have moved into shallower areas and are feeding more heavily as water temperatures have cooled, including muskellunge, walleye, smallmouth bass and schools of yellow perch.
  • Steelhead continue to run 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.
  • Brown trout continue 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:

  • With the onset of winter weather, essentially all amphibians and reptiles are now hibernating.

Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:

  • With cold temperatures across the Buffalo-Niagara Region three weeks ago, most of our inland lakes and ponds were frozen. The ice cover drove most dabbling ducks (e.g., mallard, wood duck, American wigeon) and Canada geese south, out of our Region. Many of those that remained, primarily mallards and Canada geese, relocated to open waters of the Niagara River and Great Lakes.
  • The annual buildup of “sea ducks” and similar waterbirds that over-winter in the Great Lakes and Niagara River continues with additional arrivals of 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 congregating in open waters along the upper Niagara River (especially off Beaver Island, Buckhorn, and Niagara Falls State Parks).
  • This continues to be a good time to look for purple sandpipers feeding in rocky habitats above Niagara Falls.
  • Bonaparte’s gull numbers will continue to build in the region this week, using the Niagara River as a significant stop-over feeding area along their migration route south. This species typically reaches its peak fall numbers in the region in November and December when thousands may be observed along the Niagara River.
  • This is an excellent time to watch for rare species of gulls such as Franklin’s, little, black-headed, California, Iceland, lesser black-backed, Glaucous, Sabine’s, and black-legged kittiwake among more common species 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:

  • Bald eagles can be found along the upper and lower Niagara River where good numbers will over-winter.
  • Winter resident raptors will continue to arrive in the region, especially in areas with extensive open grassland habitat, including northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, snowy owls, short-eared owls, and long-eared owls.
  • Snowy owls are frequently found along Great Lakes shorelines, such as the Buffalo waterfront, where they feed on ducks and other waterbirds.

Upland Game Birds:

  • Watch for wild turkey flocks in farm fields, along forest edges, and near bird feeders.

Songbirds:

  • Watch bird feeders for the following songbird species that are part of this year’s “winter finch” irruption: purple finch, red crossbill, white-winged crossbill, common redpoll, hoary redpoll, pine siskin, evening grosbeak, and red-breasted nuthatch. Nyjer (AKA thistle) and black oil sunflower are the best seeds for attracting these species.
  • Bird feeders are also excellent locations to watch for arrivals of more typical migrant and over-wintering feeder birds such as dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, song sparrow, and American tree sparrow.   Place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract many of these migrants.
  • Bird feeders will continue to be active with year-round resident birds such as mourning dove, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, northern cardinal, house finch, and American goldfinch.
  • Good tips for feeding birds are available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, online at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/notes/BirdNote01_WinterFeeding.pdf
  • If you don’t have a feeder of your own, consider visiting a local nature center (see the 2nd to last column in the tables of nature viewing sites found under the “B-N Region & Sites” tab on this web page).
  • The following “short-distance” migrant songbirds are passing through on their journey south or over-wintering in our region: brown creeper, red-breasted nuthatch, golden-crowned kinglet, dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, American tree sparrow, and pine siskin.
  • The northern shrike, a predatory passerine that breeds in Canada and Alaska, will continue to arrive in the Region. Watch for them on prominent perches overlooking open and brushy habitats.
  • Most eastern bluebirds, American robins, eastern meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, brown-headed cowbirds, and summer resident sparrows have now left the Region for southern climes.
  • While most American robins have migrated south, small to medium sized flocks may still be encountered.
  • Small flocks of horned larks are being joined in open farmland and other tundra-like habitats by snow buntings and Lapland longspurs. Many will over-winter in our region.
  • 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).

Mammals:

  • Resident species of cave bats (big brown, little brown, and eastern pipistrelle [tri-colored] bats) have entered hibernation. Most woodchucks have also started their winter hibernation. Two other species of true hibernators, meadow jumping mouse and woodland jumping mouse, have also begun hibernation.
  • Most eastern chipmunks have now entered a state of torpor. In this state, which is not a true form of hibernation, chipmunks sleep but arouse frequently to feed on hoarded food. They may forage aboveground during mild weather.
  • Gray squirrels and southern flying squirrels continue to actively gather and store acorns and other mast for winter. Similarly, red squirrels form middens of pine and spruce cones.
  • Watch bird feeders after dark for nocturnal visits by southern flying squirrels.
  • 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.
  • Beavers are also actively building and repairing dams and lodges at this time.
  • Ermine (AKA short-tailed weasel) have molted from brown to white pelage for winter months.
  • Continue to watch for white-tailed deer buck rubs. Bucks actively rub saplings and small trees, depositing scent from forehead glands.
  • Bucks will continue to make 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 (the “rut”) continues this week. 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.
  • Black bears, an uncommon species in the Buffalo-Niagara Region but increasingly common to our south, typically have mostly entered carnivorous lethargy by now. In this state, which is not a true form of hibernation, a bear’s heart rate is significantly lowered but body temperature falls only about 10°F (substantially smaller drop than for true hibernators).

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

Chuck Rosenburg

November 12-18, 2018 (Week 46 of 52): Our Landscape has been Transformed Following Leaf-Drop

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.

 With that said, I am posting the following Week 46 2018 post a little earlier this year as autumn set in a bit later than average in 2018.

Chuck

Wind and rain have stripped most leaves from trees and shrubs over the past week, rapidly transforming our brightly colored landscape to one dominated by drab browns and grays. While the loss of leaves and the associated color may be disheartening to some, their absence provides an opportunity to observe bird nests, squirrel nests, bald-faced hornet nests, unusual tree bark, and other features that have been hidden from view the past several months. This is an excellent time to hike established trails and the edges of fields and woods to discover what has just been revealed.

Leaf drop also provides a bonanza for many organisms, both terrestrial and aquatic, that rely on leaves for food. A variety of soil invertebrates feed on leaves (and/or fungi and bacteria on leaf surfaces), shredding them and assisting with the recycling process that returns leaf nutrients back into the soil for continued use by trees and other plants. Examples of these invertebrates include earthworms, snails, slugs, sow bugs, pill bugs, millipedes, springtails, nematode worms, and soil mites. Similarly, a variety of aquatic invertebrates feed on leaves that fall into streams. These organisms include leaf shredders (e.g., isopods, and juvenile stages of certain species of crane flies, caddis flies, stone flies, and water beetles) as well as filter feeders (e.g., juvenile stages of certain species of midges, blackflies, and caddis flies). Leaves and the terrestrial and aquatic organisms that feed on them are essential components of the food webs associated with forest and stream ecosystems.

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):

  • 7:08 AM/4:52 PM EST (9 Hours, 44 Minutes)
  • 5 Hours, 37 minutes of daylight shorter than at Summer Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 47.9° F  Normal Low Temperature: 34.2° F
  • Heavy frost/freeze and snow are forecast for this week.

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo dropped to 48°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) dropped to 46°F as of November 13, 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.

Fungi:

  • The hard frost/freeze forecast for this week will extinguish most fungal fruiting bodies. The fungal “roots” (mycelium network) will survive the winter and produce new fruiting bodies during the appropriate season next year. Interestingly, fruiting bodies of some species of fungi (e.g., oyster mushrooms) remain viable during the winter and may disseminate spores during warm periods or in early spring.

Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:

  • The hard frost/freeze forecast for this week will kill remnant grass, sedge, and rush stems (thus known as a killing frost). The roots of these perennial plants will survive and sprout next spring.
  • Broad-leaf and narrow-leaf cattail fruits are disintegrating, releasing thousands of tiny fluffy seeds to the wind.

Wildflowers:

  • The hard frost/freeze forecast for this week will kill remnant wildflower stems (thus known as a killing frost). Roots and rhizomes of perennial wildflowers will survive and sprout next spring. Seeds of annual wildflowers will do the same.
  • 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 and multiple species of bur marigold and avens.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Wind and rain have stripped leaves from most trees and shrubs over the past week, transforming a brightly colored landscape to one dominated by browns and grays.
  • Most American beech leaves continue to retain a golden hue, but the change to brown will advance quickly following a hard frost/freeze this week.
  • While most oak leaves are brown, some northern red oak and pin oak leaves in sheltered areas retain some red-brown color.
  • Leaf color for some species of trees and shrubs is still mostly green and greenish yellow, including some willows, Tartarian and Morrow’s honeysuckles (both non-native), and common and glossy buckthorn (both non-native). These leaves will soon drop following a hard frost/freeze this week.
  • Be on the lookout for stringy yellow petals of witch-hazel flowers. Also watch and listen for seeds being explosively ejected from ripe (but woody) fruits (from last year’s flowers).
  • The availability of hard and soft mast is noticeably less abundant now as squirrels, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and other wildlife have consumed a large amount over the past several weeks.
  • Some 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 at this time include northern red oak, pin oak, bitternut hickory, and black walnut.
  • 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: winterberry, cranberry viburnum, staghorn sumac, swamp rose, 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:

  • The hard frost/freeze forecast for this week will kill most adult insects and other invertebrates that have not migrated or entered hibernation. The vast majority of insect species in our Region over-winter as eggs or larvae/nymphs, although some species over-winter as adults.
  • 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.

Fish:

  • Many species of fish are moving into shallower areas and are feeding more heavily as water temperatures have cooled, including muskellunge, walleye, and smallmouth bass.
  • Schools of yellow perch continue to move into progressively shallower water as fall advances.
  • Chinook salmon (AKA king salmon) and coho salmon are mostly done spawning in Great Lakes tributary streams and the Lower Niagara River. These salmon die after spawning. Both species are native to Pacific coast watersheds.
  • Historically, Atlantic salmon (AKA landlocked salmon) followed a similar spawning pattern in the Lake Ontario. However, Atlantic salmon do not die after spawning. 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, continues to spawn in shallow rocky/gravelly shoals of the Great Lakes and Lower Niagara River.
  • Steelhead continue to run 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) continue to spawn in riffles and shallow areas of small headwater streams at this time. Male brook trout develop a hook on the lower jaw and are ornately colored at this time of year.
  • Brown trout continue 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:

  • With the onset of winter weather, essentially all amphibians and reptiles are now hibernating.

Water & Shore Birds, Gulls & Terns:

  • With recent cold temperatures across the Buffalo-Niagara Region, most of our inland lakes and ponds are now frozen. The ice cover has driven most dabbling ducks (e.g., mallard, wood duck, American wigeon) and Canada geese south, out of our Region. Most of those that remain, primarily mallards and Canada geese, have relocated to open waters of the Niagara River and Great Lakes.
  • 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 over-winter in the Great Lakes and Niagara River continues with arrivals 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 and listen for migrant tundra swans passing over and congregating along the upper Niagara River and at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and adjoining state WMA’s.
  • This is a good time to look for purple sandpipers feeding in rocky habitats above Niagara Falls.
  • Bonaparte’s gull numbers will continue to build in the region this week, 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 an excellent time to watch for rare species of gulls such as Franklin’s gull, little gull, black-headed gull, Iceland gull, lesser black-backed gull, Sabine’s gull, and black-legged kittiwake among more common species 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 hawks are continuing to pass through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, including red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, and northern goshawk.
  • Bald eagles can be found along the upper and lower Niagara River where good numbers will over-winter.
  • Winter resident raptors will continue to arrive in the region, especially in areas with extensive open grassland habitat, including northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, snowy owls, short-eared owls, and long-eared owls.
  • Snowy owls are frequently found along Great Lakes shorelines, such as the Buffalo waterfront, where they feed on ducks and other waterbirds.
  • Northern saw-whet owls will continue to migrate through the Region, as documented by Project Owlnet and ebird.

Upland Game Birds:

  • Watch for wild turkey flocks in farm fields, along forest edges, and near bird feeders.

Songbirds:

  • Watch bird feeders for the following songbird species that are part of this year’s “winter finch” irruption: purple finch, red crossbill, white-winged crossbill, common redpoll, hoary redpoll, pine siskin, evening grosbeak, and red-breasted nuthatch. Nyjer (AKA thistle) and black oil sunflower are the best seeds for attracting these species.
  • Bird feeders are also excellent locations to watch for arrivals of more typical migrant and over-wintering feeder birds such as dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, song sparrow, and American tree sparrow.   Place seed such as white millet in ground feeders or directly on the ground to attract many of these migrants.
  • Bird feeders will continue to be active with year-round resident birds such as mourning dove, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, northern cardinal, house finch, and American goldfinch.
  • Good tips for feeding birds are available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, online at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/notes/BirdNote01_WinterFeeding.pdf
  • If you don’t have a feeder of your own, consider visiting a local nature center (see the 2nd to last column in the tables of nature viewing sites found under the “B-N Region & Sites” tab on this web page).
  • The following “short-distance” migrant songbirds are passing through our region on their journey south: brown creeper, red-breasted nuthatch, golden-crowned kinglet, ruby-crowned kinglet, winter wren, American pipit, hermit thrush, yellow-rumped warbler, dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, song sparrow, American tree sparrow, purple finch, and pine siskin.
  • The northern shrike, a predatory passerine that breeds in Canada and Alaska, will continue to arrive in the Region. Watch for them on prominent perches overlooking open and brushy habitats.
  • Small flocks and family groups of eastern bluebirds may be seen this time of year, as well as small to medium sized flocks of American robins.
  • Small flocks of horned larks are being joined in open farmland and other tundra-like habitats by snow buntings and Lapland longspurs. Many will over-winter in our region.
  • 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).

Mammals:

  • Resident species of cave bats (big brown, little brown, and eastern pipistrelle [tri-colored] bats) have entered hibernation. Most woodchucks have also started their winter hibernation. Two other species of true hibernators, meadow jumping mouse and woodland jumping mouse, have also begun hibernation.
  • While a few eastern chipmunks are still active, most will enter torpor soon. In this state, which is not a true form of hibernation, chipmunks sleep but arouse frequently to feed on hoarded food. They may forage aboveground during mild weather.
  • Gray squirrels and southern flying squirrels continue to actively gather and store acorns and other mast for winter. Similarly, red squirrels form middens of pine and spruce cones.
  • 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.
  • Beavers are also actively building and repairing dams and lodges at this time.
  • 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 (the “rut”) is well underway. 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.
  • Black bears, an uncommon species in the Buffalo-Niagara Region but increasingly common to our south, typically enter carnivorous lethargy at about this time. In this state, which is not a true form of hibernation, a bear’s heart rate is significantly lowered but body temperature falls only about 10°F (substantially smaller drop than for true hibernators).

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

Chuck Rosenburg

October 15-21, 2018 (Week 42 of 52): Fall Color Will Reach Peak This Week

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.

 Chuck

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

Typical Weather:

  • 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.

Fungi:

  • 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.

Wildflowers:

  • 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.

Fish:

  • 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.

Songbirds:

  • 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).

Mammals:

  • 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.

Chuck Rosenburg

October 1-7, 2018 (Week 40 of 52): Autumn Colors are Finally Starting to Shine

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.

Chuck

Now that the Buffalo-Niagara Region has witnessed a period of seasonal temperatures, autumn conditions are finally beginning to show. Fall leaf color is now evident across the Region, albeit spotty. While overall peak leaf color is a couple weeks away, some species are fully colored now and leaf color is near peak in certain habitats (e.g., shrubland, forested wetlands). Goldenrod and aster blooms are abundant and just beyond peak, covering much of the natural landscape in yellow, white, purple, and lavender. Several species of trout and salmon are preparing to spawn. The bulk of neotropical migrant songbirds are now well south of our region and the primary species passing through at this time are short-distance migrants such as ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and white-throated sparrow. Most year-round resident mammals continue to prepare for winter, storing mast and/or building up fat reserves. Several species will enter hibernation soon. Finally, white-tailed deer continue to show signs of preparing for the rut (e.g., buck rubs, scrapes).

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):

  • 7:17 AM/6:51 PM EDT (11 Hours, 34 Minutes)
  • 3 Hours, 47 minutes of daylight shorter than at Summer Solstice

 

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 63.5° F  Normal Low Temperature: 46.5° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru October 1, 2018: 3019

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo dropped to 67°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 63°F as of September 30, 2018.
  • Water levels in most interior wetlands and vernal pools remain low but are starting to rise in response to recent rainfall and reduced evapotranspiration rates.
  • Similarly, the water level in most ponds is low but starting to rise.
  • Most streams will exhibit moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for locally higher levels if areas experience thunderstorms or other significant rain events.

Fungi:

  • 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, jack-o-lantern, turkey-tail, 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.
  • 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 cattail stems are rapidly turning brown and 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.

Wildflowers:

  • The fall resurgence of woodland wildflower blooming continues this week with the following species in bloom: white wood aster, lance-leaved aster, sharp-leaved aster, heart-leaved aster, large-leaved aster, rough-stemmed goldenrod, zigzag goldenrod, and blue-stemmed goldenrod.
  • The following woodland wildflowers will also continue to bloom this week: herb Robert, white snakeroot, and beech-drops (a wildflower that is a parasite on American beech roots).
  • Watch for brilliant orange (but acrid) fruits of Jack-in-the-pulpit as well as white baneberry’s “dolls-eye” fruits (poisonous) in rich woodlands.
  • Bittersweet nightshade will continue to flower, and red fruits will also be evident.
  • Spotted jewelweed will continue to bloom within and along the edges of swamps, and yellow flowers of pale jewelweed can be found in well-drained areas at this time. Both bear spring-loaded “touch-me-not” fruits that explode upon contact.
  • Watch for closed gentian (bottle gentian) and fringed gentian blooming in wetland habitats, along with great blue lobelia, and white turtlehead.
  • 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), birds-foot trefoil, red clover, yellow goatsbeard, black-eyed Susan, heal-all, butter-and-eggs, and multiple species (and hybrids) of knapweeds.
  • Our native open field/woodland edge goldenrods and asters will continue to flower this week: Canada goldenrod, tall goldenrod, giant goldenrod, lance-leaved goldenrod, panicled aster, heath aster, calico aster, crooked-stem aster, purple-stemmed aster, and New England aster. While many field goldenrods are now fading to brown, most asters remain vibrant.
  • Some bur marigolds and beggar ticks (genus Bidens) continue to bloom in wet meadows, marshes, and swamp edges. The most vibrant species, tickseed sunflower, transforms large areas to yellow at this time.
  • Jerusalem artichoke, a non-native wild sunflower will continue to bloom this week.
  • Pokeweed, a native herbaceous plant found in disturbed sites, is currently producing large volumes of fleshy purple fruits relished by birds and small mammals.
  • Lady’s thumb and other smartweeds continue to bloom in swamps and marshes.
  • Japanese knotweed, an invasive species that thrives in riparian habitats, is currently exhibiting bright 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.
  • Swamp 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 is now evident across the Region, albeit spotty. While overall peak color is a couple weeks away, some species are fully colored now and leaf color is near peak in certain habitats (e.g., shrublands, forested wetlands).
  • The following trees, shrubs, and woody vines are providing brilliant red leaf color: red maple, staghorn sumac, and Virginia creeper.
  • Many shrubland areas and forest edges are reddish-purple at this time as a result of the abundance of Region’s three species of dogwood: gray, silky, and red-osier.
  • Some green and white ash trees exhibit a remarkable purple-bronze leaf color at this time. Their previous abundance, prior to widespread infestation by emerald ash borer, is especially missed at this time of year.
  • Splashes of flame orange leaves can be now be found on a few sugar maples, as well as poison ivy and blackberry.
  • The following trees and shrubs display bright gold and yellow leaf color: American basswood, black walnut, silver maple, some green ash, a few quaking aspen and shagbark hickory, and spicebush. Several other tree species have yellow leaves that are a less attractive dull yellow-brown: eastern cottonwood, American elm, box-elder, and black cherry.
  • Eastern white pine and red pine are shedding “golden oldie” needles as brand new green needles take their place.
  • Many native pines are also dropping seeds from cones at this time.
  • 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, American beech, shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, black walnut, American hornbeam, 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, choke cherry, black chokeberry, cucumber magnolia, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, red osier dogwood, nannyberry, arrow-wood, cranberry viburnum, maple-leaf viburnum, spicebush, winterberry, hawthorn, staghorn sumac, multiflora rose, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and wild grape.
  • 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.

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.
  • While mosquitoes have been relatively scarce in most areas during dry summer weeks, some species become active during early autumn starting at about this time, so be prepared with protective clothing and/or repellent.
  • A few male katydids will continue to “sing” after dark, albeit at a slower pace during cooler nights. 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 continues to be 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 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 in early fall, congregating near sources of sugar and other foods to feed thousands of larvae still in their nests.
  • Watch for swarms of winged ants that emerge from the ground, climb and fly to high points on the landscape, and mate on the wing.
  • Abundant blooms of goldenrods and asters provide essential late season food (nectar and pollen) for native pollinators such as bumblebees and migrant monarch butterflies.
  • 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.
  • Early autumn butterflies to watch for this week include monarch, great spangled fritillary, painted lady, orange sulphur, clouded sulphur, and cabbage white.
  • Included among the early fall 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 that continue to move south across our region, often concentrated along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines. Resting congregations may be found in these areas.
  • Wooly bear caterpillars are currently active. This species will overwinter beneath leaf litter and ultimately metamorphose into Isabella tiger moth next spring.
  • Early fall dragonfly species (e.g., common green darner, shadow darner, eastern pondhawk, ruby meadowhawk, autumn meadowhawk, and black saddlebags) and damselfly species (e.g., American rubyspot, slender spreadwing, familiar bluet, eastern forktail, and powdered dancer) will be active this week.
  • Migrant dragonflies such as common green darners and black saddlebags may congregate along the Niagara River and Great Lakes shorelines.

Fish:

  • Most species of fish migrated to deeper cooler waters in early summer, as inshore waters warmed. Many have started moving into shallower areas and begin to feed more heavily as water temperatures have moderated including muskellunge, walleye, and smallmouth bass.
  • Perch typically begin to reform into schools around Labor Day, often at water depths of 40-60 ft or deeper. These schools are moving into progressively shallower water as fall advances.
  • Large numbers of chinook salmon (AKA king salmon) are continuing to stage off Great Lakes tributaries and beginning to run up the creeks and the Lower Niagara River 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.
  • Another native species, lake trout, are beginning to migrate to shallow rocky/gravelly shoals in preparation for spawning over the next few weeks.
  • Native brook trout (our state fish species) are preparing to spawn in riffles and shallow areas of small cold-water streams starting later this month. Male brook trout develop a hook on the lower jaw and are ornately colored at this time of year.
  • Steelhead are also staging off Great Lakes tributaries, preparing to run up the creeks which typically intensifies in mid-October. 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eastern garter snakes 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, 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.
  • The annual buildup of “sea ducks” and similar waterbirds that overwinter in the Great Lakes and Niagara River begins at this time with the arrival of common loon, horned grebe, greater scaup, lesser scaup, white-winged scoter, surf scoter, common merganser, and red-breasted merganser.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The trailing edge of shorebird migration will continue this week highlighted by greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, black-bellied plover, semi-palmated plover, American golden plover, killdeer, sanderling, dunlin, Wilson’s snipe, pectoral sandpiper, and white-rumped sandpiper. Look for them in shallow flooded areas and mudflats where invertebrate prey abounds.
  • Bonaparte’s gulls typically begin 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 and Sabine’s gull. 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 currently passing through the Buffalo-Niagara Region, including red-tailed hawk, broad-winged hawk, red-shouldered hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcon, merlin, northern harrier, osprey, and bald eagle.
  • 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.

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.

Songbirds:

  • 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, 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.
  • Relatively small numbers of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that breed in northern North America and overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) are now passing through the Region on their way south, including: Swainson’s thrush, gray-cheeked thrush, and the following species of warblers: Nashville, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, palm, orange-crowned, and blackpoll.
  • The following shorter-distance migrant songbirds are also 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, brown thrasher, yellow-rumped warbler, rusty blackbird, eastern meadowlark, eastern (rufous-sided) towhee, dark-eyed junco, field sparrow, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, fox sparrow, Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, swamp sparrow, purple finch, and pine siskin.
  • 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 being seen in open farmland. They will soon be joined by snow buntings and Lapland longspurs, with many overwintering 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).

Mammals:

  • 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, little brown, and eastern pipistrelle (tri-colored) bats congregate at hibernation sites at this time, swarming and mating. Hibernation will begin soon.
  • Two other species of true hibernator mammals, meadow jumping mouse and woodland jumping mouse, will begin hibernation soon.
  • 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.
  • Flying squirrels are also very vocal now, emitting high-pitched chirps and squeaks after dark. Listen for them calling from oak, hickory, and American beech trees.
  • 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.
  • Coyotes are often quite vocal at this time of year.
  • White-tailed deer are nearly done shedding their summer coats, transitioning from red-brown to gray-brown pelage. Spots are now faint on most fawns.
  • This is the time of year to watch for white-tailed deer buck rubs. As their antlers harden, bucks actively rub saplings and small trees to shed the outer layer of velvet and concurrently deposit scent from forehead glands.

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

Chuck Rosenburg

September 17-23, 2018 (Week 38 of 52): Summer’s Slow Transition to Autumn

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.

Chuck

 

The first day of autumn this year falls on September 22, when day and night will be nearly the same length (AKA autumnal equinox). It is noteworthy that daylength will be about 3 hours and 21 minutes shorter than at summer solstice (June 21). That disparity will continue to grow as we progress through autumn. Leaf color changes have been later than average this year as temperatures have been several degrees above normal so far this September. With that said, fall color is evident on gray, silky, and red osier dogwood shrubs at this time. Also, splashes of color are visible on a few red maple trees, staghorn sumac shrubs, and Virginia creeper vines. Goldenrods and asters are close to peak flowering, further brightening the landscape. Dog-day cicada “song” has tapered off conspicuously over the past couple weeks. Yet katydids and crickets continue to “sing” much of the night, albeit at a slower pace during cool nights. Raptor, waterbird, songbird, bat, butterfly, and dragonfly migration are well underway. Many of our summer resident bird species have already left for southern latitudes. Many year-round resident mammals continue to prepare for winter, storing mast and/or building up fat reserves, while white-tailed deer bucks begin to prepare for the fall rut by rubbing velvet off their fully formed antlers.

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):

  • 7:01 AM/7:15 PM EDT (12 Hours, 14 Minutes)
  • 3 Hours, 7 minutes of daylight shorter than at Summer Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 69.5° F  Normal Low Temperature: 51.9° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru September 21, 2018: 2,908

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo was 72°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) was 58°F as of September 21, 2018.
  • 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.

Fungi:

  • Extensive eruptions of mushrooms and other fungi 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, pear puffball, chicken of-the-woods, hen of-the-woods, oyster, fly agaric, jack-o-lantern, blewit, birch polypore, white-egg bird’s nest, turkey-tail, hemlock varnish shelf, bear’s head tooth fungus, and multiple species (and colors) of coral fungi and bolete and chanterelle mushrooms.

Ferns and Grasses/Sedges/Rushes:

  • Sensitive fern and ostrich fern leaves in the understory of forested wetlands and floodplains will begin to turn yellow, an often overlooked fall color change.
  • 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 cattail stems are rapidly turning brown and 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.

Wildflowers:

  • The fall resurgence of woodland wildflower blooming continues to advance this week with the following species in bloom: white wood aster, lance-leaved aster, sharp-leaved aster, heart-leaved aster, large-leaved aster, rough-stemmed goldenrod, zigzag goldenrod, and blue-stemmed goldenrod.
  • The following woodland wildflowers will continue to bloom this week: herb Robert and white snakeroot.
  • Watch for brilliantly colored but acrid fruits of Jack-in-the-pulpit in rich woodlands.
  • Bittersweet nightshade will continue to flower, and red fruits will also be evident.
  • Spotted jewelweed will continue to bloom within and along the edges of swamps, and yellow flowers of pale jewelweed can be found in well-drained areas at this time.
  • Watch for closed gentian (bottle gentian) and fringed gentian blooming in wetland habitats, along with great blue lobelia, and white turtlehead.
  • 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), birds-foot trefoil, red clover, yellow goatsbeard, black-eyed Susan, butter-and-eggs, and multiple species (and hybrids) of knapweeds.
  • Pollen production by common ragweed has tapered off substantially over the past two weeks. Regardless, wind-dispersed pollen from this native pioneer species remains 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 will continue to flower in abundance, including Canada goldenrod, tall goldenrod, giant goldenrod, lance-leaved goldenrod, panicled aster, heath aster, calico aster, crooked-stem aster, purple-stemmed 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) continue to bloom in wet meadows, marshes, and swamp edges. The most vibrant species, tickseed sunflower, transforms large areas to yellow at this time.
  • Jerusalem artichoke, a non-native wild sunflower will continue to bloom this week.
  • Pokeweed, a native herbaceous plant found in disturbed sites, is currently producing large volumes of fleshy purple fruits relished by birds and small mammals.
  • Japanese knotweed, an invasive species that thrives in riparian habitats, will continue to flower this week.
  • 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, and multiple species of avens and agrimony.

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Fall leaf color is now visible, especially with the Region’s three species of dogwood shrubs: gray, silky, and red-osier. Also watch for splashes of color on red maple, staghorn sumac, choke cherry, and Virginia creeper.
  • 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, American beech, shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, black walnut, American hornbeam, 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, cucumber magnolia, common elderberry, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, red osier dogwood, nannyberry, spicebush, hawthorn, staghorn sumac, multiflora rose, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, 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, 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 katydids will continue to “sing” after dark, albeit at a slower pace during cooler nights. 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 continues to be 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 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 monarch, viceroy, great spangled fritillary, red admiral, painted lady, pearl crescent, orange sulphur, clouded sulphur, and cabbage white.
  • 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, and twelve-spotted skimmer) and damselfly species (e.g., American rubyspot, slender spreadwing, familiar bluet, eastern forktail, 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.

Fish:

  • 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 continuing 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.
  • Steelhead are also staging off Great Lakes tributaries, preparing to run up the creeks for spawning which typically intensifies in mid-October. 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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 and related waterbirds will continue to arrive in the Region. Check ponds, wetlands, and Great Lakes shorelines for common loon, horned grebe, wood duck, American wigeon, northern shoveler, gadwall, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, northern pintail, common merganser, and hooded merganser.
  • Late summer is a good time to see vagrant great egrets that appear in wetlands and other waterbodies, sometimes several at a time.
  • Watch for red-throated loons, red-necked grebes, and white-winged scoters in open water areas of the Great Lakes.
  • Most common terns that nested at Great Lakes and Niagara River colony sites have migrated out of the Buffalo-Niagara Region.
  • 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, and Baird’s sandpiper. Look for them in shallow flooded areas and mudflats where invertebrate prey abounds.

Birds of Prey:

  • Early migrant hawks such as broad-winged hawk, red-shouldered, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcon, merlin, 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.

Songbirds:

  • Most summer resident ruby-throated hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles have left the Buffalo-Niagara Region for their southern wintering range.
  • 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: least flycatcher, yellow-bellied flycatcher, eastern wood peewee, red-breasted nuthatch, blue-gray gnatcatcher, Philadelphia vireo, blue-headed vireo, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, veery, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, gray-cheeked thrush, and scarlet tanager.
  • Among these neotropical migrants are a couple dozen species of warblers. The second half of September is typically the peak period for migrant warblers in the Region. More than 20 species of warblers have been observed in the Region over the past week.
  • The following shorter-distance migrant songbirds are also passing through our region on their journey south: yellow-bellied sapsucker, winter wren, ruby-crowned kinglet, golden-crowned kinglet, hermit thrush, yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler, purple finch, white-throated sparrow, and Lincoln’s sparrow.
  • Experience migrant passage by listening for songbird contact calls after dark. Monitor movements on Doppler radar or at http://birdcast.info/.
  • Small flocks of eastern bluebirds and small to medium sized flocks of American robins may be seen this time of year.
  • Postnuptial molt, the replacement of colorful breeding season feathers with drab overwintering feathers, occurs at this time. It is most evident with American goldfinches visiting our feeders and “confusing fall warblers” migrating through the Region.
  • 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).

Mammals:

  • 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.
  • Flying squirrels are also very vocal now, emitting high-pitched chirps and squeaks after dark. Listen for them calling from oak, hickory, and American beech trees.
  • 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 continuing to shed their summer coats, transitioning from red-brown to gray-brown pelage. Spots are now faint on most fawns.
  • This is the time of year to start watching for white-tailed deer buck rubs. As their antlers harden, bucks actively rub saplings and small trees to shed the outer layer of velvet and concurrently deposit scent from forehead glands.

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

Chuck Rosenburg

September 3-9, 2018 (Week 36 of 52): Season of Abundance and Transition

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.

Chuck

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

Typical Weather:

  • 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.

Fungi:

  • 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.

Wildflowers:

  • 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.

Fish:

  • 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.

Songbirds:

  • 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).

Mammals:

  • 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.

Chuck Rosenburg

Allegany Nature Pilgrimage – the 61st Annual Gathering of Nature Enthusiasts

Folks,

Very sorry I have yet to finalize and publish a Buffalo-Niagara Nature Almanac post for Week 22 (May 28-June 3, 2019). Preparing for and attending the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage this weekend took priority. As always, it was a wonderful weekend of nature-themed programs in Allegany State Park! For my wife, Kristen, and me, it is our favorite weekend of the year. Please mark your calendars for next year’s Pilgrimage, schedule for May 29-31, 2020 (always the weekend after Memorial Day).

If you have a few minutes, please check out the Pilgrimage web page and/or Facebook page for more event details:

http://www.alleganynaturepilgrimage.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pg/AlleganyNaturePilgrimageAlleganyStatePark/posts/

Better yet, see pages 18-21 for February 2018 Conservationist articles written by my wife, Kristen Rosenburg (“The Best Weekend in the Woods”), and Megan Mills Hoffman (“A Frantic Pilgrimage with Friends and Family”) – available at the following link:

https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/administration_pdf/0218consmag4web.pdf

 

 

 

May 21-27, 2019 (Week 21 of 52): Shorebird Migration May Peak This Week

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

Typical Weather:

  • 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.

Fungi:

  • 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.

Wildflowers:

  • 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.

Fish:

  • 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.

Songbirds:

  • 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).

Mammals:

  • 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.

Chuck Rosenburg

May 14-20, 2019 (Week 20 of 52): Rapid Transformation to a Vibrant Green Landscape

I am amazed every spring with how rapidly our landscape changes from drab browns and grays to vibrant shades of green. Concurrently, and not by accident, our forests and fields awaken with a diversity and abundance of animal life. Insects and other invertebrates that rely on plants as food begin their life cycles in earnest. In turn, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians capitalize on the abundance of invertebrates to feed young. Migrant birds and bats consume large numbers of invertebrates to fuel their continued passage north. Herbivorous mammals, such as woodchuck and white-tailed deer, rely on the surge in plant growth to survive and nurse young. A vast and complicated food web is quickly established and maintained throughout the growing season.

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):

  • 5:50 AM/8:34 PM DST (14 Hours, 44 Minutes)
  • 5 Hours, 43 minutes of daylight longer than at Winter Solstice

Typical Weather:

  • Normal High Temperature: 66.9° F  Normal Low Temperature: 47.7° F
  • Cumulative Growing Degree Days thru May 14, 2019: 178

Lake, Pond, Stream & Wetland Conditions:

  • The Lake Erie water temperature off Buffalo warmed substantially to 45°F and the Lake Ontario water temperature off Greece (Monroe County) warmed moderately to 46°F as of May 17, 2019.
  • Inland ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools remain near annual high-water levels.
  • Streams will exhibit moderate flow levels this week, with the potential for locally higher levels if the area experiences thunderstorms with heavy downpours.

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:

  • Fern fiddleheads (furled leaf fronds coiled like the scroll of a violin head) will continue to unfurl for some late emerging species such as Christmas, maidenhair, and sensitive fern.
  • 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.
  • New growth of broad- and narrow-leaf cattails in marshes is rapidly overtaking last year’s brown cattail stems.

Wildflowers:

  • Abundant yellow flowers of marsh marigold continue to flower, albeit beyond peak, in some forested and emergent wetlands.
  • Some spring ephemeral and similar early woodland wildflowers will continue to flower this week, albeit beyond peak, including northern blue violet, Canada white violet, downy yellow violet, wild ginger, and large-flowered (white) trillium.
  • The following woodland wildflowers may begin to 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.
  • Virginia bluebells will likely reach peak flowering this week, primarily in rich floodplain forests.
  • The rose-purple flowers of wild geranium may be observed in woods and meadows later this 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.
  • Cuckoo flower will continue to bloom in wet meadows and along the edges of swamps and marshes.
  • Wild strawberry will begin to blossom this week. Make a mental note of their locations so you can plan to return in June to enjoy the fruits.
  • 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.
  • 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 begin 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:

  • Leaves of most tree and shrub species will grow surprisingly fast this week, especially with seasonally warm weather forecast for Saturday through Monday. Leaf-out will be nearly completed by the end of this week for most species (excluding ashes, hickories, and walnuts).
  • Wind-dispersed pollen of oaks, birches (e.g., yellow birch, American hornbeam), and ashes (e.g., 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 continue to 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.
  • Similarly, shagbark hickory and bitternut hickory will begin to flower this week, ultimately producing hickory nuts that will be an important component of our region’s mast crop this fall.
  • Several native fruit-producing trees and shrubs will begin to flower late this week and early next week: black cherry, choke cherry, red elderberry, nannyberry, and hawthorn.
  • Tartarian honeysuckle, an invasive non-native shrub that has infested many woodland habitats in our region, will begin to flower later this week. Its flowers have a strong sweet fragrance.
  • Red and silver maple trees are rapidly producing a crop of “helicopter” samara fruits that will flutter to the ground over the next few weeks.
  • Quaking aspen, big-toothed aspen, and various willows will begin 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 likely be out in large numbers by the end of next week, swarming but not biting at first. Some may start to bite later this week.
  • 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 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, likely including spring azure, eastern tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, black swallowtail, giant swallowtail, little wood satyr, pearl crescent, clouded sulphur, 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 may continue to migrate back into our region from the south this week.
  • Early emergence dragonfly species (e.g., eastern pondhawk, four-spotted skimmer) and damselfly species (e.g., eastern forktail, fragile forktail, familiar bluet) may be active this week.

Fish:

  • Muskellunge may still be concentrated in vegetated shallows for spawning.
  • Walleye and yellow perch will continue to move into shallow water areas to spawn.
  • Smallmouth bass will continue to migrate from Lakes Erie and Ontario into tributary streams, harbors, and bays in preparation for spawning.
  • Huge schools of rainbow smelt may migrate from Lake Ontario into the Lower Niagara River to spawn, although few if any have been reported near shore. They may also be found in the lower segments of other large tributary streams (both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie).
  • 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:

  • Breeding choruses of spring peepers, western chorus frogs, northern leopard frogs, and American toads will continue this week, albeit less boisterous than earlier this spring.
  • 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 continue this week.
  • Green frogs and bullfrogs will begin calling from ponds and semi/permanent wetlands this week.
  • Watch for breeding clusters of northern water snakes around the edges of ponds and wetlands.
  • 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:

  • 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.
  • Common terns are attempting to nest 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.
  • Early migrant shorebirds will continue to arrive in our area this week, including black-bellied plover, semipalmated plover, ruddy turnstone, sanderling, semipalmated sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, least sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, spotted sandpiper, and short-billed dowitcher.
  • 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:

  • 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 and eastern screech owl 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. 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.

Songbirds:

  • 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 wave of neotropical migrant songbirds (those that overwinter primarily in tropical areas such as Central & South America) that started two weeks ago will continue this week. Watch for species such as least flycatcher, great-crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, yellow-throated vireo, warbling vireo, wood thrush, and rose-breasted grosbeak.
  • The following neotropical migrant songbirds that typically mark the beginning of the end of spring migration will continue to arrive in the region this week: eastern wood-pewee, red-eyed vireo, veery, Swainson’s thrush, indigo bunting, and scarlet tanager. Additional late migrant species to watch for this week include common nighthawk, black- and yellow-billed cuckoos, alder flycatcher, willow flycatcher, Acadian flycatcher, and Philadelphia vireo, and gray-cheeked thrush.
  • 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, 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 continue to return to grassland nesting sites in our region this week from as far away as Argentina. Listen for their distinctive bubbly song that resembles R2D2 from Star Wars.
  • 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) 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).

Mammals:

  • 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 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. Antler growth is now evident on bucks.

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

Chuck Rosenburg

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