Chris Martin

Host, Something Wild

Chris Martin has worked with New Hampshire Audubon for more than 19 years as a Senior Biologist in the organization's Conservation Department. His work has focused primarily on monitoring and management of New Hampshire's endangered or threatened birds, especially birds of prey such as bald eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons.

A wildlife biologist with almost 30 years of diverse experience, Martin has climbed to bald eagle nests in Alaska's Katmai National Park, counted seabirds near the Aleutian Islands, coordinated peregrine falcon restoration at Isle Royale in Lake Superior, helped research a wildlife habitat field guide in Minnesota, and studied how a southern Indiana forest responded after a devastating tornado.

Since moving to New Hampshire in 1990, Martin has worked frequently with colleagues at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies to recruit, train, and deploy volunteer wildlife observers when and where they are needed. He has advised electric utilities on how to establish safe nesting sites for ospreys, partnered with rock climbers to collect peregrine falcon egg samples to check for environmental contaminants, and documented New Hampshire's only known breeding population of American pipits in the alpine zone on Mt. Washington.

In 2006, Martin received an Environmental Merit Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston for his outstanding efforts in preserving New England's environment. “I view my role as one of documenting what's going on with wildlife populations in the Granite State, and also providing folks with the knowledge and training they need to make meaningful wildlife observations out there on their own. That's one of the reasons I find contributing to Something Wild to be so enjoyable.”

Something Wild Program Page

A Salute To Bobolinks & Henry David Thoreau

Jul 11, 2014
Kelly Colgan Azar via flickr Creative Commons

A tumbling jumble of bird song from across the field announces the presence of bobolinks. In his journals, Henry David Thoreau quoted a Cape Cod child who asked:

"What makes he sing so sweet, Mother? Do he eat flowers?"

NH Audubon

Those of you who keep a close eye on the Peregrine Falcon cam in Manchester, will be well acquainted with the saga these birds have undergone this year. If you're not, NH Audubon's Chris Martin has a quick recap and explains the latest developments, as he bands this year's chick.

Peter Gorman via flickr Creative Commons

Deep down I think we all are instinctively foragers; a vestige of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Ripening now in meadows and along roadsides is a vegetable favored by many wild-food foragers: common milkweed. From emergent shoots on through to flowers and the formation of young pods, milkweed can be cooked and added to just about any meal.

The song of the veery is a haunting, ethereal song. Males sing at dusk, a time when not many other birds sing and daytime winds have calmed. It's also a time when the air turns damp; dense, moist air transfers sound waves better than dry air.

If you listen to the song carefully, you can hear an echo or tremolo effect (more on this below), because songbirds have, essentially, a double voice box that can produce two notes at the same time. (The left voice box is lower pitched than the right one.) In a sense, a singing veery harmonizes with itself.

The 'Dirt' On Soil

May 30, 2014
NRCS Soil Health via flickr Creative Commons

This time of year finds a lot of people working in their gardens. Good gardeners pay attention to their soil.Just like above ground, there’s a diverse world of wildlife below ground competing for space, nutrients, and performing roles that support life on Earth.

Microscopic bacteria species by the millions; root fungi that deliver nutrients to plants; worms, ants and other insects aerating the soil and adding nutrients through their droppings and—post mortem—as their bodies decay. Minerals laid down long ago are constantly breaking down through weather and erosion.

Len Peters via flickr Creative Commons

I've learned that a sighting of a bluebird on a bird watching field trip stops everything. We'll pause a long time as people take turns looking through the spotting scope. Involuntary gasps of pleasure, "oohs" and "aahs" and "ohmygods."

And Reago and Chrissy McClarren via Flickr/Creative Commons.

We went into the field this week to speak with Carol Foss, Member of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group and NH Coordinator of the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz

Rusty Blackbird populations have fallen over the last century: by between 80 and 90-percent. Last fall the working group decided to make careful study of the spring migration, and coordinated hundreds of volunteer scientists along the migration route to track the birds.

Alexandra MacKenzie via flickr Creative Commons

Move over robins; red-winged blackbirds are the real harbingers of spring.

The male’s scratchy “oak-a-lee” songs are heard when the world is still blanketed with snow and maple sap is just beginning to flow. Males return north well before females, and the early bird does get the worm. In this case the metaphorical worm is prime breeding territory.

Saw-Whet Owls

Apr 4, 2014
Kent McFarland via flickr Creative Commons

There are a lot of unusual sounds out there in the natural world. Here’s one from the nighttime forest, often heard this time of year.

No, it’s not a school bus backing up.

It’s a tiny owl, the northern saw-whet, and it’s a lot more common than bird surveys suggest. As you might imagine, small birds active only at night are not easy to survey. Also important to note is that because they're the favorite meal of the much larger barred owl, their survival depends on keeping a low profile—usually under cover of dense conifers.

Vernal Equinox Means Equal Night

Mar 21, 2014
Abigail via flickr Creative Commons

The Vernal Equinox has arrived! For one brief moment, everywhere on planet Earth, day and night are equal: 12 hours from sunrise to sunset and sunset to sunrise.

The length of daylight compared to dark, is known as photoperiod. Seasonal changes in photoperiod  trigger a lot of changes in plants and animals. Many plants are known as short-day species; they flower after the summer solstice when days are getting shorter. Plants that bloom in spring are known as long-day species.

The Common Junco And Its Uncommon History

Mar 7, 2014
foxtail_1 via flickr Creative Commons

A huge question in evolutionary biology is the very basic one: How do species form? It turns out that the Dark-eyed Junco, one of the most common birds at winter feeders, is providing a  clear picture of that process.

First, a quick review of what defines a species:

The Truth About Coy-Dogs

Feb 21, 2014
Jeff Wallace via flickr Creative Commons

It's the height of eastern coyote courtship, and a pair can really yip it up. Coyote sightings, as well as the sounds of coyotes often sparks talk of coy-dogs. Is there such a thing?

Yes. And no.

Yes, domestic dog and coyote hybrids are biologically possible and have occurred; but no genetic sampling of coyotes has found evidence of domestic dog. Coy-dogs don't survive, and here's why.

A Snowy Invasion

Jan 24, 2014
Tom Magliery via flickr Creative Commons

This year is being referred to as an "invasion year" for snowy owls, and it might be one for the record books.  

Most of the snowy owl sightings have been along the coast where a flat, open landscape resembles their native tundra. Reports from New Hampshire birders include sightings of up to nine in a single day. On Nantucket, the annual Christmas Bird Count found 33, far surpassing the previous count record of four.

NH Has Got Stones!

Jan 10, 2014
davidburn via Flickr/Creative Commons

Winter's transparent landscape offers a great opportunity for boulder appreciation. And New Hampshire has a lot of big ones, deposited by glacier action over 10,000 years ago. As the ice sheet advanced south, at it's glacial pace, it fractured and plucked many large boulders rights off mountain tops. When the glacier eventually receded, it left behind billions of these "glacial boulders." 

State Fern Nominee?

Dec 27, 2013

  New Hampshire's a state insect, the ladybug was nominated by persuasive Concord fifth graders; the pumpkin is our state fruit courtesy of some persuasive Harrisville third and fourth graders. I'd like to plant a seed—or perhaps a spore—for nomination of rock polypody as our state fern. Here's the case.

Forest Succession

Dec 13, 2013
Kyle Harms, Louisianna State University

"Forest succession" is a pattern of plant regeneration that begins when a plot of land is left to its own devices. The first phase of this succession is bare soil or an abandoned field. And nature, over the span of decades, converts the area through several stages to mature forest – if left undisturbed.

The World Runs on Grass

Nov 29, 2013
Francie Von Mertens

Grass doesn't get a lot of appreciation aside from lawns and hayfields, but grasses play an essential role in ecosystem health. When soil is disturbed by hurricane, fire or logging, grasses take quick advantage of. Dormant seeds awaiting the right conditions sprout and up come the grasses.

Fewer Exotic Birds in NH This Winter

Nov 15, 2013

Fall migration has wrapped up for all but a few bird species. This semi-annual rite of passage typically follows predictable timetables and geographic routes. Exceptions to the rule, "irruptive" species, are northerners that head this way certain winters, driven out of their home territories by food scarcity.

Beauty In The November Grays

Oct 31, 2013
Creative Common/Flickr Cape Cod Cyclist

Robert Frost ended a short poem on life and nature with the line, "Nothing gold can stay." October has ended after delivering golden fall days that make us regret the indoor tendencies of our lives. Stark November is at the doorstep now. We reacquaint ourselves with ridge-lines visible through bare trees and with stone walls along fields cleared and worked in a time when days were spent more outdoors than in. 

The Turkey Vulture

Oct 18, 2013
Flikr/Creative Commons, K Schneider

October 18 is the Full Hunter's Moon, and heading south now are hunters of a different sort: turkey vultures, scavengers that feed on carrion.

Unlike other birds, this species has a uniquely developed sense of smell that guides them to their next meal. Weak fliers, turkey vultures are skilled at hitching rides on air currents. Rarely flapping, they hold their wings in a V angle and wobble a bit while gliding. Because of their large size, they're often misidentified as eagles, but eagles power along, strong and steady in flight, never tipsy.

Where Have All The Monarchs Gone?

Sep 20, 2013
Creative Commons/Rachel Ford James

A lot of people are asking this question, concerned at the diminished numbers of this most charismatic butterfly.  Not many schoolchildren this fall will be able to watch caterpillar transform into chrysalis and then glorious adult—metamorphosis in action.

Monarchs are celebrated for their fall migration to Mexico, but the population that spends the wintering there is experiencing a decline. In fact, this past winter it was the lowest on record.

Nature's Obligate Relationships

Sep 6, 2013
Wikimedia Commons

It is the height of monarch butterfly season in New Hampshire. Though fewer migrants have returned this year. They're producing the generation that will undertake one of the most impressive migrations: two-thousand miles to overwinter in Mexico.

Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of many different flowers but require very specific plants when laying their eggs. Eggs hatch into caterpillars that feed only on the leaves of particular species.

Howl of the Wild

Aug 23, 2013
Wikimedia Commons

During the late summer and fall, coyotes really "yip it up." Despite what you can learn on Youtube, their yips and howls are family communications that have nothing to do with bloodthirsty predators circling for the kill. 
 

The eastern coyote pack is small: an adult pair and their young. The youngsters are venturing out on their own now and adults howl to round them up. When on the prowl for food, silence is the code—which makes sense—but reuniting often inspires prolonged vocal celebrations. 

Pam Hunt; NH Audubon

We’re standing up to our shins in Turkey Pond, on a warm July morning with Pam Hunt, a biologist with New Hampshire Audubon who has spent the last five years organizing, in conjunction with NH Fish and Game, the New Hampshire Dragonfly Survey. Hunt trained about a hundred volunteers to gather data and help map the distribution of dragonflies across the state. 

Fireflies-- Beyond the Magic

Jul 12, 2013
Wikimedia Commons

The twinkling fireflies of a summer night bring a little magic. If we think beyond the twinkling, we probably realize it is courtship in progress: the signals of males and females.

There are a couple dozen firefly species in New England, each with a unique series of flashes, from males in flight to females perched below. Beyond the magic, very few people have knowledge of the medical benefits as well: the use of a firefly's light-producing chemicals in bioluminescent imaging.

Marsupial On The Move

Jun 28, 2013
Bob Peterson / Wikimedia Commons

New Hampshire is home to the Virginia opossum, our country's one-and-only marsupial.

As a marsupial, an opossum's development takes place ex utero in the mother's pouch instead of in utero, as placental mammals do.

Opossums are a backyard species, but because they are nocturnal, casual sightings are rare. More often, they will be seen as roadkill--an unfortunate consequence of being an urban, slow-moving animal.

Ladies First: Role Reversals Of Spotted Sandpipers

Jun 14, 2013
Kenneth Cole Schneider / Flickr/Creative Commons

From shores of wild waterways to not-so-wild urban ponds, a small bird startles up and flies low over the water with quick, stiff wingbeats.
 

It's a spotted sandpiper, a small shorebird often encountered along freshwater shorelines.

Shorebirds come in all sizes, and spotted sandpipers are in the short, stocky category. Despite coloring that blends well with sand and rocks, there's a movement that often gives spotted sandpipers away: they bob up and down as though seized by intense hiccups. When stalking prey, however, their teetering stops.

Small Bird, Big Song

May 31, 2013
Shanthanu Bhardwaj / Flickr/Creative Commons

As spring moves into summer, birdsong is in full voice. The winter wren, weighing only one third of an ounce, is tiny in stature but boasts an energetic song made up of over 100 individual notes.

Why such a big song from such a small bird? The winter wren makes its home among root tangles and boulders, and unlike birds of open spaces, birds particular to dense, enclosed spaces need a strong song to have it carry far.

We tagged along with Diane DeLuca, a biologist with NH Audubon on her rounds of the Deering Wildlife Sanctuary. DeLuca has been working on their Phenological Monitoring Pilot Project, and defines phenology as "the study of 'phenophases', which are the different phases that plants and animals go through in their life cycle each year." 

Birdsong, Translated

May 17, 2013
Ashour Rehana / Flickr/Creative Commons

With birds tuning up for the breeding season ahead, here are some memory tricks to help you recognize a few of the more common songs.

Robins can be heard in just about all habitats across the state and the nation. Their whistled song is often translated as, "Cheer-up. Cheerily. Cheerio."

Another song easy to "translate" is the flight song of goldfinches. Someone somewhere interpreted it as, "Potato chip! Potato chip!"    

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