Story and Photographs By Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… even though we are several weeks behind, much of Central New York State in displaying a spring season filled with gorgeous flora, we are now quickly catching up. Our flowering tree like the Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is covered with buds and so are our ornamental flowering crab apple trees. The Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) and Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba) will still take several more weeks for the mature leaves to appear. The deer that sleep in the meadow pass through our yard to go into the woods behind our house. I noticed that they are in full molting now and look rather scruffy. Their winter hollow-shafted darker hair that provided the warmth and camouflage is falling off. Underneath is their spring/summer hair which is reddish-brown. The Does that had last year’s fawn or fawns with them throughout the winter will abandon them now that they are almost yearlings. She will probably be giving birth to a new fawn or fawns within a few weeks. She devotes all of her time to raising the new offspring.

We are seeing many of the colorful migratory birds returning to our meadow and woods. So far the Baltimore Orioles, the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and a plethora of tiny colorful Warblers have either visited our feeders or can be seen in the meadow. Even the male birds that wintered over are molting into spring colors to impress their mates. Some birds like the Northern Cardinals have extremely different color plumage which makes it easy to identify the male from the female. Others may have very subtle differences to tell male birds from female birds. For instance, the male and female Pileated Woodpeckers for the most part look exactly alike except for one subtle difference. The male Pileated has a red “chin stripe” while the female has a black “chin stripe”. An interesting breeding feature is that of the European Starling. Many people that see this bird from a distance and assume it is black like a crow. With binoculars or a zoom lens, you can see it is really an interesting iridescent and speckled colored bird. Another interesting fact is that in the late fall and winter the starling’s bill is black and its plumage doesn’t change in spring and summer, but its bill turns a golden yellow.

Another bird that displays a difference in appearance which is quite subtle is the Bald Eagle male and female. Their coloring is similar with the dark brown body and white head and tail feathers. The only time you may have an opportunity to observe the difference is during courting, mating, and nesting. The female is considerably larger than the male, about twenty-five percent larger. The average height of the female is thirty-five to thirty-seven inches and the male is thirty to thirty-four inches. The wingspan of the female varies from seventy-nine inches to ninety inches and the male wingspan is from seventy-two to eighty-five inches. Her average weight is about twelve pounds while the male weighs about nine pounds. The bald eagle’s skeleton actually weighs less than all of its feathers combined because its bones are hollow.

Most of the male and female ducks have distinct color variations due to the fact the female is less colorful because of their nesting habits. Their drab colors provide the perfect camouflage. Their young once hatched may be entirely different depending on the species. In North America, there are seven different conditions. Precocial 2 means they are mobile, downy, and follow parents and find their own food. Precocial 3 means they are mobile, downy and follow parents, and are shown food. Precocial 4 means they are mobile, downy, and follow parents that feed them. Semiprecocial means mobile but they remain at their nest and are fed. Semiprecocial 1 means they are immobile, downy with their eyes open and they are fed. Semiprecocial 2 means they are immobile, downy and their eyes are closed and they are fed. Altricial means they are immobile, no down, and their eyes are closed and they are fed.

There are subtle differences in identifying males from females in amphibians too. For instance, the Green frog (Lithobates clamitans) male and female appear to look identical except for one interesting feature which is their eardrum. Their eardrum is called a tympana and it is located behind their eye on either side of their head. If the tympana is larger than the frog’s eye it is a male and if is it smaller or about the same size as its eye then it is a female.

In addition to fauna, there are also subtle differences found in flora. In the early spring, the first yellow blossoms may appear to be Common Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale). However, it may actually be Coltsfoot (Tusilago farfara). There are several subtle differences between these two plants. Coltsfoot is known as a “son before father” plant because the bloom appears before the leaves. The dandelion leaves will always appear before their blossom. Another subtle difference is that coltsfoot’s stem is scaly and the dandelion’s stem is smooth. Two more plants that appear similar are Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and Wild Parsnips (Pastinaca saliva). This could be a tragic mistake if you are making a wildflower bouquet and do not know the difference between the two plants. They both have a large white umbel or umbrella-shaped flower. Wild parsnips have become extremely prolific along both rural roadways and even major highways. I have seen it along many hiking trails too. The sap or juice within the wild parsnip may cause blisters or skin irritations. It is similar to both Cow Parsnips (Heracleum maximum) and Giant Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) in that it too may cause skin irritations. A neighbor was using a weed whacker to remove some unwanted wild parsnips. He was wearing shorts and sneakers without socks and the sap from the parsnips, as they were being cut sent the sap flying, and a lot of it landed on his legs and arms. Within minutes he noticed a burning sensation which eventually led to a trip to Convenience Care.

Do you know how to tell the difference between a male and a female blue jay? That is difficult because they have basically the same color, markings, and size. They are monomorphic, meaning both sexes are similar in body size colorations, and other features.