The "fisher cat": ferocious predator of house cats whose bloodcurdling screams pierce the dark of night. Facts about this one wildlife species have mutated a long way into fiction. For starters, fishers are members of the weasel family—not feline. Properly referred to, they're "fishers," not "fisher cats."
There's new and unsettling information about domestic cats. A study just published (full study here) estimates cats kill between 1 and 4 billion birds each year in the U.S. That's an average of over three million birds each day.
Among the many stories about the intelligence of ravens, and their playfulness is one from Mount Monadnock. As the sun was setting a hiker shared the mountaintop with a gang of ravens taking turns leaping into a strong updraft, tumbling up, then circling around to leap again.
The stately Raven has garnered many connotations over the years, chief among them are for the bird’s intelligence. Additionally, this largest of songbirds is also known for is aerobic alacrity - flying upside down, doing barrel, etc - and playful proclivities.
Stories of their intelligence abound, including one that involves Cheetos. A wildlife biologist was attempting to trap and band ravens. To lure them in, he spread Cheetos on snow and the bright orange color soon attracted several ravens, which were then snared by leg traps under the snow.
A poor cone crop in Canada this year is driving crossbills south of the border in search of food.
As volunteers fan out across the state for the annual Christmas Bird Count, they’re likely to see two noteworthy species down from the north this year. Both are named "Crossbills" for unique bills that actually do cross, all the better to pry seeds from a conifer cone.
As the year draws to a close, it's a great time to reflect on Rachel Carson's Silent Springonce more. 2012 marks the books 50th anniversary. The book encouraged many young naturalists and, with the holidays approaching, we've come up with two gifts to further one's love of nature: a pair of binoculars and a bird guide.
Taxonomy is the attempt to place all plant and animal species in a logical order based on relationship. Two thousand years ago. Aristotle classified birds by appearance and behavior, such as birds that swim, birds of prey, and birds that sing.
For the forager of wild foods, November brings cranberries, crisp and tart to suit the season. Cranberries are a wetlands obligate, meaning they grow in wetland soils, so keep a watch for these low, trailing plants when you're out exploring river edges and soggy lowlands. And then return in November for the harvest. Many berries survive through the winter freeze to provide a spring snack.
November's gray skies carry the last of the migrating Canada geese, graceful ribbons of true wild Canadians on a long-distance flight. These aren't the New England locals, flying low from golf course to cornfield.
The northerners are vocal in flight. Geese are highly social, vocal year-round as they maintain relationships both within the family grouping and the greater flock. Vocalizing by young begins within the egg before hatching, and helps build a strong family bond that lasts a full year.
Henry David Thoreau's death 150 years ago has inspired memorial events in Concord - the Massachusetts Concord - but Thoreau passed through our Concord on a trip by boat and foot that led to his first book.
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.
Once again, it's broad-winged hawk migration time. Whirpools of hawks soon will fill the sky, riding high on thermal lift as sun warms earth. When lift plays out they stream south in an orderly, and countable, procession.
New Hampshire Audubon does just that - count the hawks - at Carter Hill Orchard in Concord and atop Pack Monadnock at Miller State Park in Peterborough.
Here's what Henry Walters, the official counter at Pack Monadnock, wrote two years ago on September 18:
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.
In mid-August, one of the most elegant and least known migration flights begins. Common nighthawks, a long-distance migrant, are one of the earliest to depart their northern breeding grounds. Despite their species name, they aren't hawks and they aren't nocturnal. And, alas, they no longer are common. Nighthawks are crepuscular, a great word for the handful of species that are most active at dawn and dusk.
A Something Wild listener recently asked for a recommendation for binoculars—preferably in the low- to medium-price range. It's a great subject. My favorite word heard on field trips is "Ohmygod," an exclamation involuntarily emitted when someone sees a bird or butterfly—or just about anything—up close through good binoculars.
There's a newcomer in New Hampshire, a bird that's wild and prehistoric in looks and sound. The bugling of sandhill cranes is common in Wisconsin and Michigan where their numbers have rebounded from near eradication some 70 years ago. That rebound—from the low hundreds to over 50,000 today—has likely led to a range expansion eastward to New England. There's 11 known pairs breeding in Maine, and a few in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. Surely New Hampshire is next.
Come the weekend, it's time to tend the All-American Lawn; time to fire up the mowers and weed whackers. Lawns need a lot of tending because they go against a basic law of nature: biodiversity, the ever-changing, dynamic system of plants and animals, flora and fauna.
You've got to hand it to dandelions. They're transplants from Europe that have adapted and spread very, very well. Anyone who has tried to pry dandelions loose from lawn or garden knows they have a long tap root. Leave any root segment and the plant will rise again.
Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring", woke the world up to the perils of chemicals that promised food crops free of disease and insects, and time outdoors free of mosquitoes. The book is credited with starting the modern environmental movement. It was the birdwatchers that first alerted the scientists about robins literally falling from the sky soon after DDT was sprayed, as well as longer-term declines in birds higher on the food chain.
Mid-May is like rush hour in the bird world. Migrants have returned for the nesting season and the air is full of birdsong. As you might guess, birdsong is as varied as birds themselves. In fact, birdsong is defined generously to include any and all sounds they make with territorial or courtship intentions. Let's start with a traditional vocalization and then branch out.
May brings apple blossoms, a universal favorite—whether in hillside orchard or backyard crabapple. They're also favored by one of the most elegant songbirds of all, cedar waxwings. They're a social species but sedate and quiet as birds go—easy to miss despite traveling in flocks.
Often the best way to know they're around is by their song. It's subtle, admittedly, but worth learning. Once alerted by their song, here's what you might see: male and female waxwings exchange blossoms bill-to-bill as part of a courtship ritual when winter flocks pair off for the breeding season ahead.
The ants come marching, one by one, up the kitchen wall; it’s a sure sign of spring. These are the worker ants, females all, tasked with delivering food to the colony. Male drones remain in that colony, on call for their one role in a very brief life: mating with a fertile female destined to be a new queen.
As anglers dust off their tackle boxes, it's a great time to make sure that all the lead is out. Decades of research by the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough has proven the toxicity of lead fishing tackle to wildlife. One lead sinker an ounce or less in weight can kill a loon in a matter of weeks. Loons swallow grit and pebbles that help to grind up food, and sometimes there's a sinker in the gravelly mix. Fishermen lose a lot of sinkers.
We've all seen wildlife documentaries showing young animals—lion cubs, perhaps—wrestling, chasing, pouncing on their siblings. Observe household puppies and kittens and you'll see the same behavior: young animals at play.
Play is defined as spontaneous, energetic behavior with no apparent purpose or goal. But whenever there's considerable expenditure of energy, a closer look is warranted. There may not be apparent goals, but the true benefits of play are being recognized by a growing number of disciplines.
In New Hampshire we value rural character—a value that's reflected in a strong history of land conservation. Central to that history is conservation of privately owned land by means of what's called a "conservation easement deed" that limits future development. It's typically a family decision. A family chooses to conserve their land so that future generations will know the land as they do. The property stays on a town's tax rolls and its natural resources are protected in perpetuity. Land conservation benefits the public, and in most cases landowners are entitled to an income tax dedu
Barred owls, New Hampshire's most common owl species, also have the most familiar courtship and territorial song—usually translated as, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" It can be heard all year, day or night, but really revs up as owl breeding season begins in late winter. Owls are early nesters.
Wildlife produce their young when their primary food resource is most abundant. Mice, rabbit and squirrel populations are exploding when owl hatchlings on a continual growth spurt require frequent feeding.
Summer visitors to New Hampshire typically are eager to hear the call of a common loon, emblem of the wild and remote north woods. Popular souvenirs to take home include coffee mugs, sweatshirts and jewelry—all with a loon motif.
In addition to their striking appearance, I suspect the fact that loons chorus at night adds greatly to their mystique. Loons of winter don't get much attention, but scan coastal waters and chances are good you'll see a loon or two offshore. New Hampshire's breeding loons don't migrate far.
New Hampshire Audubon's annual Backyard Winter Bird Survey is coming up: the second weekend each February.
Three woodpeckers common statewide are among the early birds when it comes to loudly proclaiming territory and courtship. Lend an ear this time of year and you'll hear the rapid-fire drumming of powerful bills on resonant deadwood. Vocally challenged, woodpeckers drum while most other backyard birds sing.
Once again, Friday the 13th is at hand, one of the most abiding superstitions despite little agreement about its origins. Superstitions date from a time when the workings of the physical world were unknown. Calamitous events such as earthquakes, solar eclipses, plagues and death seemingly came out of nowhere.
Many superstitions centered on birds, most likely because they fly high to the heavens where the gods were thought to hang out. Birds were seen as carrying messages from the gods, and because the gods wielded power capriciously the messages seldom were glad tidings.