Francie Von Mertens

Contributor, Something Wild

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri October 3, 2014

Something Wild: Azure Crescendo

Kelly Colgan Azar via flickr Creative Commons

Generations ago, when people lived closer to the natural world, more outdoors than in, mild October days were called "bluebird weather."

The eastern bluebirds' gentle, quizzical notes were familiar and their distinctive habits recognized. A bluebird family remains together this time of year when most other bird species disperse. They favor field or open habitat, and typically perch on branches at field edge when they feed.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Something Wild: Goldfinches, The Late Nesters

American Goldfinch
Credit jjjj56cp via flickr Creative Commons

The bird world quiets down by late summer - but not the American goldfinch, one of the most common backyard birds. September brings the chatter of young goldfinches as they follow their male parent. They beg noisily, perched with head thrown back and trembling wings.

Most songbirds switch their diet to high-protein insects when feeding their young, and they nest earlier when insects are most bountiful. For example, chickadees that keep bird-feeders busy in winter disappear in summer as they forage for insects not birdseed.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri August 29, 2014

Something Wild: Dragonflies Winging South

casch52 via flickr Creative Commons

Late summer brings cool nights and clear air - and winged migration. Along with birds heading south, there's a few butterfly, moth and dragonfly species that respond to the migratory urge.

One dragonfly - the common green darner - has been studied with results that suggest there's a lot of similarities between insect and bird migration. Tiny radio transmitters were attached with eyelash adhesive to green darners which were tracked by plane and ground crews.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri August 8, 2014

As Fresh Fruit Ripens, Fruit Flies Multiply

This image shows a 0.1 x 0.03 inch (2.5 x 0.8 mm) small Drosophila melanogaster fly.
André Karwath via flickr Creative Commons

Summertime ushers in a bevy of fresh fruit enjoy and in no time, a bevy of fruit flies. With a keen sense of smell, fruit flies hone in on a juicy cantaloupe or overripe bananas tossed on the compost pile. Although they're a pest in the kitchen, fruit flies have been a focus of research for over 100 years, and today there are hundreds of labs dedicated exclusively to studying them.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri July 25, 2014

What Are Japanese Beetles Good For?

Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica)
Kurt Andreas via flickr Creative Commons

Mid-summer brings Japanese beetles to the garden, clustering on their favorite foods: the leaves of raspberry, grape, and garden roses. In the vegetable garden, the lead shoots of pole beans are another tasty target. I know gardeners who find a daily ritual of flicking beetles into a container with water and a drop of liquid soap to be very therapeutic. Beetle demise is quick. These are people who typically release indoor spiders and wasps to the outdoors, but damage to the garden is another matter. 

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Something Wild
9:00 am
Fri July 11, 2014

A Salute To Bobolinks & Henry David Thoreau

Male bobolink
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?"

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri March 21, 2014

Vernal Equinox Means Equal Night

Sunset over Mt. Major.
Credit 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.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri March 7, 2014

The Common Junco And Its Uncommon History

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:

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri February 21, 2014

The Truth About Coy-Dogs

Credit 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.

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Something Wild
12:07 am
Fri February 7, 2014

Creatures In The Night

Credit Douglas Brown via flickr Creative Commons

Wildlife tracks in the snow indicate of a lot of coming and going in the nighttime world. Why are so many animals active, given their limited ability to see in the dark?

There's the obvious reason: division of resources helps avoid competition. A red-tailed hawk hunts the same fields by day that a great horned owl hunts by night. Night also offers some animals protection from their main predators. Mice lie low by day, but in the wild—and in my house—they come out at night.

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Something Wild
12:00 am
Fri January 24, 2014

A Snowy Invasion

Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) as seen along the Boundary Bay Dyke Trail.
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.

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Something Wild
12:26 am
Fri January 10, 2014

NH Has Got Stones!

The Madison Boulder in Madison, NH is one of the largest known "glacial erratics" in North America.
Credit 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." 

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Something Wild
12:46 am
Fri December 27, 2013

State Fern Nominee?

  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.

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Something Wild
12:18 am
Fri December 13, 2013

Forest Succession

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.

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Something Wild
12:10 am
Fri November 29, 2013

The World Runs on Grass

A common roadside grass, Little Bluestem stabilizes soil against run-off.
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.

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